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­6 Obscure Amps That Absolutely Destroy

Mike “McDuck” Olsen of Lake Street Dive with the EX-DC, a double-cutaway semi-hollow with the versatility to go from
soul-rock warmth to bluesy buzz. Their new album, Side Pony, comes out February 19th on Nonesuch Records.

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Publisher Jon Levy

Chief Content Officer Shawn Hammond
Managing Editor Tessa Jeffers
Senior Editor Andy Ellis
Senior Editor Ted Drozdowski
Gear Editor Charles Saufley
Art Director Meghan Molumby
Associate Editor Chris Kies
Associate Editor Rich Osweiler
Associate Editor Jason Shadrick
Nashville Correspondent John Bohlinger
Nashville Video Editor Perry Bean
Digital Designer Ben Kuriscak
Photo Editor Kristen Berry
Contributing Editor Joe Gore


Operations Manager Shannon Burmeister
Circulation Manager Lois Stodola
Production Coordinator Luke Viertel

Advertising Director Brett Petrusek
Advertising Director Dave Westin
Marketing Manager Matt Roberts
Director of Marketing Colton Wedeking


Chairman Peter F. Sprague
President Patricia A. Sprague
Managing Director Gary Ciocci

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Death to Asinine Clickbait!


f you spend any amount of time keeping
tabs on current events, chances are you’re
increasingly nauseated by how inane and
clickbait-y “news” has become—and not just
the stuff from soullessly ambitious social-media
upstarts or wannabe YouTube stars.
In the race for “viral” content (an accidentally
perfect adjective if ever there was one)—or hell,
even in the increasingly futile race for clicks that
give them just a few seconds with a handful of
eyeballs—even many award-winning, bona fide
news sources with decades in the business are
succumbing to the dumbing.
Evidence? Hmmm … how about the fact that
coverage of the race for the most powerful office
in the land is reduced to a circus more suffused
with the qualitative equivalent of elephant-
manure emanations than the Ringling Bros. and
Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Or the fact that, for months on end, the new Star Wars film and its nearly 40-year-old antecedents
have become the be-all and end-all not just of human existence, but also of product marketing in
literally any category.
Then there’s this wonderful trend: Headlines that mate a numeral with a celebrity name, a random
plural noun, and a fantastically hyperbolic claim are decanted into a digital swill bucket and slopped
out to the masses as if the world were full of thoughtless brutes whose love for wallowing in excrement
is only rivaled by the vigor with which we clamor for worthless trivia.
To be sure, dumbness in the news is not new. Desire for gossip and meaningless tripe rather than
information that challenges, uplifts, and motivates may very well be hardwired into our social DNA.
And certainly where there’s easier money to be made off low-hanging fruit, there you’ll always find a
crowded marketplace.
But considering how easy it is for supposed news sources to get away with this shortsighted
asininity, it’s all the more important to dish kudos to outlets that wear the newsgathering mantle with
pride, dignity, and heart. Which brings us to 194-year-old U.K. news outlet The Guardian, whose
recent video documentary on a band of young men with autism offers thinking people reason to have
hope for the future of journalism. It also prompted us to talk to members of the AutistiX (p. 139) in
what for me was one of the most rewarding and meaningful interviewing experiences in my guitar-
journalism career.
I hope you’ll take the time to read (and watch) Saul, Jack, and Luke’s touching and inspiring
story. Further, I hope you’ll take it as yet more evidence that we here at Premier Guitar also wear our
journalistic mantle with pride, dignity, and heart—and that we abhor that barf-inducing bullshit just
as much as you.

Shawn Hammond
Chief Content Officer

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piggyback Bassmans (as well as to the hyper-optimistic notion Socialize
the Bandmaster and Tremolux that things will change. As we
amps from that period) featured blindly accept all new shiny
with Us!
single speakers mounted in a technology without a thought
Fender-designed metal sound to the repercussions, I’m really
ring that was supposed to boost hopeful that people will take
the bass response of the cabinet. a moment, rub their eyes and
This particular amp actually has realize that digital music (and
a single 12" speaker, which, from everything else) isn’t necessarily
the front, appears to be a 15" better. Hopefully, that will
due to the lip on the ring. Some bleed over into bright, young
folks actually removed the ring journalism students. In any
and mounted a 15" after the fact, case, please know that there
but Fender didn’t offer them that are readers of your magazine
way. Keep up the good work. that absolutely appreciate your
I always look forward to your journalistic standards and aren’t
Craving the Quack interviews and articles! simply satisfied with sound-byte
I’m a proud owner of one of —Steve Soest, commentary. Keep up the The new
these amps [“Benson Monarch Soest Guitar, Orange, California good work! @premierguitar mag
Review,” December 2015]. It —Scott Mitchell showed up today.
has a very pure and vibrant Yo Steve, you are clearly a #booyeah
sound. It has the tendency to Bassman man (man). Thanks for Full Circle —@Lanrod
make you want to play with no the clarifications, my friend. I I love/adore Leslie West [“Leslie
effects and focus on the raw and envision a room full of blackface, West: ‘Going Down’ Exclusive @premierguitar
natural character of whichever tweeds, and browns in your home Song Premiere, ” January 2016]. @Snapchat BAM!
guitar you’re using. For me, the ... lucky dog. I’m 61 and saw Mountain often followed :)
high-end chime and sparkle —John Bohlinger at the Fillmore. There would be —@JPeterPhillips
is what gives this amp its own no “metal” of any kind if not
unmistakable and unique voice. The Digital Age for Leslie. I stopped giving any
It’s particularly noticeable in Hey Shawn, attention to the Rock and Roll
the pick attack, giving it a very I’m a longtime subscriber and Hall of Fame years ago because
dynamic and three-dimensional big fan of your magazine. I they chose to ignore Leslie’s more-
feel. Somehow it feels both enjoyed your article on guitar/ than-obvious contributions to Affordable woods
modern and vintage sounding music journalism and am truly rock. While this is an outstanding grown in America are
at the same time. I find myself hopeful that you’ve inspired track, I have to cite one objection: the best woods—pine,
frequently craving its woody some younger folks to pursue a Leslie is emulating Jeff Beck, who maple, alder, etc. Do
quack and it’s made me a much very noble endeavor. Sadly, as was emulating Leslie West and the “wear a blindfold”
more expressive player. The a lifelong newspaper/magazine Freddie King, when he recorded test! If you put crappy
minimal design is beautifully reader, I’ve seen firsthand the “Going Down.” Leslie, please. pickups on the most
Zen and I highly suggest you try degradation of journalism and Stick to your guns. You’re the precious tonewood-
one for yourself. journalistic quality. Blame original. No need to emulate constructed guitar,
—Matthew Fallon, the internet, short attention those who’ve been emulating you! it’ll still sound like
via premierguitar.com spans, apathy towards grammar —Kevin Davitt, crap. Nobody can
and pronunciation, decline in via premierguitar.com honestly put a
Bassman Man demand for these skills, etc., but blindfold on, play a
Just a clarification on the the reality is that print media guitar, and spout off
’61 Bassman amp [“Axes & is dying and the online version
Keep those the tonewoods used
Artifacts: 1957 Gretsch 6120 is rife with sentence fragments
comments coming! in the construction of
Please send your suggestions,
& 1961 Fender Bassman,” and overall poor product. gripes, comments, and good words
a guitar.
January 2016]. The original However, I continue to cling directly to info@premierguitar.com. —Scott Silvers

CONTENTS February 2016 p. 12
Dave Mustaine and
David Ellefson plot
world domination via
new album Dystopia.

Ava Mendoza
The avant-rocker

Photo by Sam Gehrke

details her sonic
journey, from
traditional to fringe.

101 34 49 61 153
Tortoise Brute Squad Holy Grail Forgotten Loop Switcher
Jeff Parker and Doug EarthQuaker’s Joe Guitar Show Heroes: Roundup
McCombs trade axes Golden discusses six Europe’s new boutique Robert Bell Three pedal switchers
and experiment with amps that destroy. guitar show celebrates Kool & the Gang’s to help optimize your
improv jazz ideas. its second year. funk bass legend. stomp station.

Eric Skye &
Mark Goldberg 168 DryBell Vibe Machine V-1 191 Carr Lincoln
Two virtuosic 168 Xotic RC-Booster SH 194 Sire Marcus Miller V7
fingerstylists blend lush
acoustic tones with 169 Providence Bass Boot Comp 197 Fender Acoustic SFX
improvisational telepathy
on their duo album. 169 TC Electronic HyperGravity 201 Catalinbread KatzenkÖnig
170 PRS SE 227 Baritone
La Luz
Surf-noir guitarist 173 MXR 5150 OD
Shana Cleveland reveals
the secrets of her
177 Ampeg PF-50T
Weirdo Shrine. 180 Ibanez Talman Prestige
139 TM1730M

The Autistix 183 Siegmund Doppler

Three young autistic Stereo Combo
men unite to rock
London and beyond. 187 DLS Effects RotoSPIN

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all priced at $1,895 FANOGUITARS.COM

(Clockwise from top left) Aims

VTG 105, Ampeg M15, Soul Shaker
Mama Soul Shaker 30, Traynor YSR-1,

CONTENTS February 2016

Beamish Beamer, and Ampeg V4.
Photo by Bruce S. Gates

6 Obscure Amps That Absolutely Destroy
18 Gear Radar

21 Opening Notes
166 Tools for the Task
204 Staff Picks
222 Esoterica Electrica
224 Last Call

“Dragging your
genitals over GEAR
the head of a 26 Rig Rundowns
security guard 30 Vintage Vault
will always get
32 Trash or Treasure
you press. “
—John Bohlinger,
72 Tone Tips
Last Call, p. 224
112 Acoustic Soundboard
124 The Recording Guitarist
126 Guitar Shop 101
146 On Bass
148 Bass Bench
150 State of the Stomp
160 Mod Garage
162 Ask Amp Man

Top left: Photo by Barry Brecheisen

Music To Your Ears

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worldwide, Elixir Strings For Bass is the range that modern players demand.

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GORE, ELIXIR, NANOWEB, POLYWEB, GREAT TONE · LONG LIFE, “e” icon, and other designs are trademarks of W. L. Gore & Associates. ©2015 W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc. ELX-496-R1-ADV-US-DEC15

ONLY ON PremierGuitar.com…
Your guide to the latest stories, reviews, videos, and lessons.


Access all of our lessons
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downloadable, printable
notation PDFs.

Simo Records at the Big House 10 Commandments of

Only a handful of people can say they’ve hefted and played Duane Allman’s ’57 Les Paul goldtop, Bluegrass Guitar
but none of them had thought to track an entire album with it, let alone use the Allman Brothers’ By Andy Falco
famed Big House in Macon, Georgia, as the recording studio. But that’s what Nashville-based axe- BEYOND BLUES
slinger JD Simo did with Let Love Show the Way, his barnstorming power trio’s latest slab of electric Matt Schofield’s
blues rock—a reverent nod to the past, with a tube-warmed glimpse of a freewheeling future. Sophisticated Solos
By Levi Clay
“The original Allman Brothers Band when Duane was alive is a huge influence, not only on
myself but on all of us in the band,” Simo tells us. “You’ve got six guys who were able to rise and fall WHAT BOHLINGER PLAYS
dynamically, stop, go to nothingness together—it was just beautiful. I don’t think it’s ever been done Rockabilly I, IV, V
better, before or since.” We got the scoop on Simo’s vintage gear and production techniques, including By John Bohlinger

the ’69 Marshall Super Lead he used on the album as well as the recording setup in the Big House. ELECTRIC ETUDES
In other artist news, Intronaut’s 6-stringers Sacha Dunable and Dave Timnick discuss their new John McLaughlin
album The Direction of Last Things and how top-notch producer Devin Townsend added depth to By Shawn Persinger
their signature prog-metal polyrhythms and filled out their sound. Plus, Dunable pulls back the curtain CRAM SESSION
on how he’s creating handmade instruments and pickups for his band and metal acts across the land. Alternate Picking
Read these full interviews and more online now at premierguitar.com/feb2016. By Jamie Humphries

Another Year of Gear
As you read this, chances are we’re either still holed
up in our annual January bunker at NAMM 2016—
held January 21-24 in Anaheim, California—or
we’ve just returned and are attempting recovery. Left: Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for NAMM
Don’t miss all of the gear demo videos straight
from the showroom floor—last year Premier Guitar
brought you more than 100 video interviews with
your favorite luthiers. The real-time coverage
includes Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram
feeds of everything we’re seeing as it happens, and
of course, comprehensive gear galleries and editors’
picks posted daily at premierguitar.com/namm2016.


RT if you would fund a Kickstarter to get
Jakob Dylan that second headlight.

bowie says death grips influenced his

new record. wonder if he heard any of
my guitar sounds

Bart Starr is my favorite

@deadandcompany jam.


Amp musical chairs. @evhgear


The start of it all .. TRAPEZE... Most

underrated trio of all time

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 17

New products on the horizon.

2 5

1 2 3 4 5
GUITARS VT40X Adineko Quiet Coil Pickups SE Angelus A20E
Dellatera Fusing all-new, Oil Can Delay This series of noise- This cutaway flattop
This affordable variation sophisticated modeling This modern-meets-classic canceling Strat pickups boasts a 15.5" Angelus
on a classic design technology with a 12AX7 oil can delay features an look, sound, and feel like body shape—constructed
features a Z-Glide neck tube preamp circuit, this updated set of controls— traditional single-coils. with x-brace/classical
and a wealth of options 1x10 combo offers 11 like being able to blend The company set out with hybrid top bracing—that
including Zelinsky’s amp models, 12 effects the repeat heads—while the idea of using only the has a solid spruce top with
Tejas custom-engraved options, an aux-in, a honoring the original vibe exact same materials used mahogany back and sides,
hardware package. headphone jack, and it’s of the unique echo units in making vintage pickups. a rosewood fretboard
$499 street compatible with Vox’s from yesteryear. $80 street and bridge, and PRS
deanzelinsky.com Tone Room software. $199 street mojotone.com electronics.
$249 street catalinbread.com $699 street
voxamps.com prsguitars.com



6 7 8 9 10
Travel Bass HARMONIX TA-1H Tri Avatar PolyLock Guitar Alex Lifeson
This super portable bass 720 Stereo Looper A next-generation and Bass Straps Double Neck
sports a 21" scale length, Mike Matthews’ latest loop chorus pedal that offers The PolyLock’s patent- This behemoth was
solid spruce top, and box packs a whopping three independent pitch pending design makes it modeled after the original
mahogany back and sides. 12 minutes of stereo modulation signal paths, easy to securely attach EDS-175 that was featured
The Dual Port System lets recording time with supports both stereo and the 2" polyweb strap to on the legendary Farewell
you hear more of what unlimited overdubbing, monaural operation, your instrument without to Kings tour. There will
you are playing while the reverse and half-speed and boasts 24-bit AD/DA the need for modification only be 100 made and the
increased soundboard effects, and silent converters. or bulky hardware. Strap first 25 will be signed and
area produces greater footswitches. $350 MSRP adjusts from 38"– 67". played by Lifeson himself.
projection. $185 MSRP freethetone.com $32 street $7,299 MSRP
$360 street ehx.com ernieball.com gibson.com

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 19

Name: Jesse Gosselin
Hometown: New Haven, Connecticut
Guitar Model: 1960 Rickenbacker 330F

After searching for 23 years, I

found my dream instrument—
this 1960 Rickenbacker 330F
in Fireglo. Around 1991 I
started looking for an axe
with the sound and look
of a Rickenbacker, but
that could also deliver the
smooth and bass-y jazz tones
of a Gibson ES-175 or
Gretsch 6120. I discovered
that Rickenbacker
experimented with
hollowbody jazz guitars
in the late ’50s and into
the ’60s. A full body,
or “F body” guitar,
became my quest. In
the meantime, I got
my first Ric’, a stock
black 360, which I
still use today.
Rickenbacker made
145 total F bodies between
1958 and 1968, so I was facing tough
odds. In April 2014, my prayers were
answered by a collector in Cleveland.
He saw my posts on the fan forums, and
based on my passion and enthusiasm
for Ric’ F bodies, he was willing to sell
me this guitar, which is one of only 17
Rickenbacker 330Fs ever made. It’s one
of four Fireglo 330Fs made in 1960. It
has a replacement bridge and tailpiece,
but otherwise is all original.
I can dial in the essential Ric’ chime
easily on the bridge pickup, get real
creamy jazz tones from the neck pickup,
and a unique blend of the two with the
selector switch in the middle. I play this
guitar at home all the time, have used it
on multiple recordings, and sometimes
take it out for high-profile gigs. Every time
I gig with it, both guitar fans and casual
fans tell me how gorgeous they think it is.
I know some collectors would declare me
insane for gigging with it at all, but I just
love the guitar too much to resist.

Send your guitar story to



Glenn Tipton
November 7, 2015
Prudential Center
Newark, NJ
Photo by Joe Russo

The heavy metal wizard lays down

the brutal with one of his long-
time axes, a 1988 Hamer Phantom
Glenn Tipton model that boasts a
maple neck spec’d to Tipton’s ’64
SG. Though the Judas Priest vet
typically favors EMG 81s in all his
instruments, this particular axe is
loaded with an undisclosed set of
active humbuckers.

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 21


Dave Navarro
October 31, 2015
City Park
New Orleans, LA
Photo by Barry Brecheisen

Jane’s Addiction’s axe man hands

out Halloween tonal treats to a
Voodoo Fest crowd via his 2010
PRS Dave Navarro signature
model. Except for Sperzel locking
tuners, Navarro has kept “Black
Bastard 2” free of modifications
and favors the guitar for its smooth
fretboard, thin neck, and aggressive,
high-output PRS pickups.


Geoff Weers
November 12, 2015
The Orbit Room
Grand Rapids, MI
Photo by Anthony Norkus

The Expendables frontman brings

it with his No. 1, a stock 1998
Fender “Big Apple” Strat. Weers
depends on the Seymour Duncan
Pearly Gates-loaded axe for its
versatility since the band’s music
touches so many different genres.
Says Weers, “It’s great for metal
rhythms, reggae skanks, bluesy
riffs, jazzy chord changes, staccato
surf-style runs ... anything!”
premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 23

Freddie Cowan
November 22, 2015
O2 Academy, Brixton
London, England
Photo by Guy Hurst

The Vaccines’ lead guitarist lets

loose in London with a customized
Starcaster he built with the help
of Fender and J. White Guitar
Workshops. In addition to the
Starcaster body, it features a
Jazzmaster neck, a Bigsby, and a
pair of Lollar Regal humbuckers
that he says are “the most dynamic
pickups I’ve ever come across.”


Isbell made his
Grand Ole Opry
debut at the tender
age of 16.
troubadour Jason
Isbell met with
Premier Guitar’s
Perry Bean at the
Tivoli Theatre
in Chattanooga,
Tennessee, to go
deep about his
guitars, Dumble-
modified amps,
and why his wife is
the best at picking
out gifts.

Top: This Duesenberg
Starplayer TV has been
Isbell’s main guitar for
quite some time. He had
one just like it that was
stolen, so Isbell ordered
this one sight unseen
and it came out perfectly.
Isbell strings up all his
electrics with Ernie Ball
strings (.010–.046).

Bottom: “This guitar

will actually get me
gigs,” says Isbell. It’s a
“Cooder-caster” that
was built by Nashville
luthier Tom Stadler
from Carter Vintage
Guitars. The idea behind
the guitar came from
legendary slide guru Ry
Cooder’s main guitar.
Stadler salvaged the
“gold foil” neck pickup
from an old Teisco
guitar and held onto it
for about a year before
Isbell’s wife, Amanda
Shires, commissioned
the guitar for his
birthday. Stadler also
installed a Lollar lap-
steel pickup that’s based
on an old Supro model
in the bridge position.

This ’64 Fender Pro
came from producer
Dave Cobb. It’s a 1x15
combo that has been
worked on by reclusive
amp mystic Alexander
Dumble. “It’s supposed
to be as good as a
Fender Pro as you can
get,” says Isbell.

Middle: All of Isbell’s
pedals are housed in
drawers in his rack and
the first one contains an
Analog Man Sun Lion—a
four-knob compressor—
Origin Effects SlideRIG,
and a Greer Amps
Lightspeed Organic
Overdrive. A Voodoo
Lab Pedal Power ISO 5
powers this drawer.

Bottom: The second

drawer contains a
pair of Fishman Aura
Spectrum DIs and an
original silver-faced
Klon Centaur (which was
yet another gift from his
wife). Another Voodoo
Lab power supply, this
time a Pedal Power
Digital, keeps things up
and running.

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 27


Denver Dalley & Conor Oberst

The popularity of
Oberst’s other band,
Bright Eyes, put
Desa on hold until
PG’s Chris Kies Payola came out
earlier this year.
caught up with
lead guitarist
Denver Dalley, who
covered the band’s
whole setup before
headlining show
at Nashville’s
Mercy Lounge.

Top: This is Denver
Dalley’s main guitar—a
1977 Gibson RD
Standard. He said
he prefers the oddly
shaped axe because it
fits his body type due
to its contours, weight,
and scale length
(25.5"), or in his words,
“It’s tall and awkward
like me so I’ve had an
immediate kinship with
them.” This was the first
RD he ever bought and
has been his No. 1 ever
since because he feels
he knows it best.

Bottom: Frontman
and guitarist Conor
Oberst uses nothing but
Gibson Les Paul Juniors.
This one is a 2000s
model and boasts
Grolsch bottlecaps
and gaffer tape as
functioning straplocks.

No matter if it’s a
rumbling baritone or
a buzz-sawing Junior,
Oberst plugs both
6-strings into this
Divided By 13 RPB
19/37, which uses two
6V6s in the 19-watt
mode and two EL34s in
the 37-watt mode.

Middle: Conor only uses
a few stompboxes for
his core live tone—a
Boss TU-3 Tuner,
ZVEX Box of Rock,
EarthQuaker Devices
Monarch and Organizer,
and a disengaged
Ibanez AD9 Analog
Delay. His main dirtbox
is the ZVEX Box of Rock,
the Organizer is used
for one part in a song
during the set, and the
Monarch is another
drive, specifically EQ’d
for when he plays the

Bottom: Right before

the band’s tour, Dalley
decided to wire up a
third pedalboard just
so he could try out
new pedals that had
been sitting around his
place and the rehearsal
space. The board
includes a Boss TU-2
Tuner, Electro Faustus
Step Child and Guitar
Disruptor, Dwarfcraft
Devices Gears, Cusack
Screamer Fuzz V2,
Electro-Harmonix Nano
Big Muff, Walrus Audio
Descent and Messner,
Electro-Harmonix Pitch
Fork, Walrus Audio
Bellwether, Boss PS-5
Super Shifter, Old Blood
Noise Endeavors Black
Fountain, EarthQuaker
Devices Afterneath,
Cusack Tap-a-Delay, Red
Panda Raster, Electro-
Harmonix Freeze, and
a Dwarfcraft Devices
Pitch Grinder. The third
board is juiced by the
Walrus Audio Phoenix
power supply.

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 29


1965 Foam Green Fender Stratocaster


he Stratocaster debuted in 1954 generally came from existing automotive speaker. This last-year-for-blackface amp
as Leo Fender’s attempt to paint supplies. has a “normal” channel with volume,
improve what he had begun with The 1965 Strat pictured is finished in treble, and bass controls, and a “vibrato”
the Telecaster and achieve the perfect the rare Foam Green (originally a Buick channel with volume, treble, bass, reverb,
solidbody guitar. Although he continued color from 1956) and otherwise has speed, and intensity. The original 1967
this process with the Jazzmaster, Jaguar, the typical features associated with that list price was $249.50. The current value
and his Music Man and G&L designs, year. These include a maple neck with a is $2,500.
the continuing popularity of the Strat separate rosewood fretboard, pearl dot Sources for this article include: The
is evidence that he got it right in 1954. inlays (replacing the earlier clay dots), and Fender Stratocaster by A.R. Duchossoir,
The text in the 1965 catalog remains a small headstock (until 1966) with a gold The Stratocaster Chronicles: Celebrating
true today: “The many remarkable design “transition” Fender logo. This example 50 Years of the Fender Strat by Tom
features incorporated in the Stratocaster, also has the factory-original larger and Wheeler, Fender: The Sound Heard
including many ‘Fender Firsts,’ have wider frets that, although not mentioned ’Round the World by Richard R. Smith,
resulted in making it the choice of many of in any catalogs, can be seen occasionally and Fender Amps: The First Fifty Years
the world’s leading musicians.” in models from that year. The 1965 list by John Teagle and John Sprung.
The standard finish for a Stratocaster price with custom finish was $295. The Detailed information on Fender custom
was a two-toned sunburst (three-toned, Fender Body-Guard—a clear plastic colors can be found on this website:
starting in 1958), but, even early on, plate that fit over the guitar’s back—was guitarhq.com/fenderc.html.
customers requested custom finishes available for an additional $13.50. The
to suit their personal style. Fender first current value for a Foam Green 1965
mentioned a custom finish option in its Fender Stratocaster in excellent all-original Dave Rogers’ collection is tended by Laun Braithwaite
1956 catalog, although it wasn’t until condition is $25,000. and Tim Mullally and is on display at:
Dave’s Guitar Shop
1961 that an official custom color chart The Deluxe Reverb behind the Strat 1227 Third Street South
sampling 14 rectangular paint chips was dates from 1967. Two 6V6 power tubes La Crosse, WI 54601
made available. Fender’s custom colors push 20 watts through a 12" Oxford Photos by Mullally and text by Braithwaite.

Opposite page:
This 1965
Foam Green
(serial number
L74470) and
1967 Deluxe
Reverb are a
potent pairing
for classic tones.

Left: Note the

ridges of the
plastic Body-
Guard on the
guitar’s lower
contour, as
well as the
gleam of both
of these classic

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 31


Tacoma Thunderchief CB10CE4


Q: Hey Zach,
I bought this Tacoma several years ago because the praise band at my
church needed an acoustic bass. I played it only a few times before
putting it back in the case and letting it sit in my closet ever since. I
took it out the other day and I forgot how great it sounds, and how
unusual it is. I can’t seem to find much info about Tacoma. Are they out
of business? Also, you don’t see too many acoustic basses in general,
so I’m wondering what you can tell me about it and what it’s worth.
Rick in Ft. Worth, Texas

Though Tacoma Hi Rick, increased, the company began
is no longer
It seems every praise band rounding out their line with a full
in business,
instruments like initially needed an acoustic offering of acoustic guitars. And in
this Thunderchief bass, but now you see electric basses 1999, they introduced their acoustic
CB10CE4 everywhere. So what to do with this basses. The Thunderchief instruments 2008. When your bass was discontinued
continue to oddity? I promise your bass has a purpose, were essentially bass versions of the that year, the MSRP was $1,489.
stand out in
the acoustic and is also somewhat of a collector’s item existing Chief guitar models. Your bass Tacoma basses were revered for their
crowd, thanks since Tacoma is no longer in business and appears to be a CB10CE4 model with deep-bass sounds, volume, playability,
to their unique hasn’t built an instrument since 2008. First, the following specifications: a solid and lightweight build. At the same time,
soundholes, bolt- let me offer up a little Tacoma history. Sitka-spruce top, mahogany back and they were criticized for being fragile
on necks, and
In the early 1990s, Korean piano sides, the upper-bass bout “paisley” and prone to dents and dings. Improper
shaped bridges. company Young Chang invested over 20 soundhole, a bolt-on mahogany neck, storage and/or non-ideal humidity
million dollars into a 50-acre sawmill rosewood fretboard and bridge, two- conditions often led to the top or back
plant in Tacoma, Washington, to provide per-side tuners, and Fishman Prefix Plus separating from the sides. All that said,
wood for their pianos. Young Chang was electronics. (Non-electric, 5-string, and if well taken care of and in excellent
already building cheap acoustic guitars at fretless versions were also available.) condition (which it sounds like it is),
the time, so sawmill manager J.C. Kim In their relatively short existence, your bass is currently valued between
saw an opportunity and convinced Young Tacoma ownership changed hands a $1,000 and $1,200—not bad considering
Chang to build a guitar plant nearby for couple of times. When Young Chang it probably sold for less than that new
producing private-label guitars out of the was facing financial troubles in the late almost a decade ago.
quality woods they had at the sawmill. 1990s, the company sold Tacoma and the A quick search on a popular music-
The facility would build about 100 sawmill to J.C. Kim. Then in late 2004, gear site turned up less than 50 results for
guitars a month as a private label for the FMIC (Fender) bought Tacoma from acoustic basses, while a similar search of
first several years. Kim. At the time, Fender was rapidly electric basses turned up over 600 results.
The company debuted the first adding brands to their umbrella and Acoustic basses just aren’t as common.
Tacoma-branded models with the they purchased Tacoma to provide more If you want to sell it, you should be able
Papoose and Chief at the 1997 NAMM manufacturing space for Guild guitars to find a buyer who might revive it in
show. Tacoma garnered attention by while still continuing to build Tacomas. a praise band. Or keep it, and it will
integrating several unique features to their In 2007, Fender bought the Kaman continue to be a treasure—even if it sits
acoustic-guitar designs, such as a kidney Music Corporation (owners of Ovation in your closet.
bean-shaped soundhole in the upper-bass guitars), and in early 2008, announced
bout and asymmetrical bridges. While that they were moving Tacoma and Guild ZACHARY R. FJESTAD is author
of Blue Book of Acoustic Guitars,
they are aesthetically pleasing, these production to Kaman’s manufacturing Blue Book of Electric Guitars, and
design features were all intended to make facility in New Hartford, Connecticut. Blue Book of Guitar Amplifiers.
For more information, visit
the top resonate more. Guild made the move, but unfortunately, bluebookinc.com or email Zach at
As Tacoma’s new guitars became Tacoma did not resume production and guitars@bluebookinc.com.

accepted by players and their popularity the brand has been mothballed since



This tone machine sounds as good as it looks. Hand made and hand wired in
America, the Single V is available as a 2x12 stereo combo or head, featuring
30-watt push-pull class AB, powered by 2 6L6 power tubes. With our patented
pitch-shifting varistor vibrato, plus reverb and tremolo, you can dial in your tone
with ease and simplicity. Like Buddy Holly 50 years ago, and many legends you
know today, Magnatone is heard in the rich, lush music of the masters. Find
out who at Magnatoneusa.com/artists.
The Magnatone Single V. Inspired by 1958. Made even better in the 21st century.

© Magnatone LLC 2015

6 Obscure Amps That
Absolutely Destroy

y fascination with amps Repairs and inventions soon followed. and arguably deserving of mythical
started before I was even a I was hooked! Besides adding up to status. But for whatever reason, not
player. I remember hearing 20 years of great playing memories, only have these amps maintained
an accordion played through a Leslie my enthusiasm for all things amplified anonymity with the vast majority of the
speaker at a local park function as a translated into a job for me, too. (I playing public, but they’ve pretty much
preteen. The timbre—the lush physical work as a designer and builder for been overlooked by the industry as a
cry of the horn and the full, resonant EarthQuaker Devices in Akron, Ohio.) whole. Some are pawnshop prizes—
bass—marked the advent of my obses- With this article, I’d like to hip that oft-skipped-over amp for sale next
sion with sound. you to some fantastic amps that—so to the shiny, more easily recognizable
When I eventually started playing far—have flown under the radar. and sonically safer brand. Some are
myself, I realized that the Leslie We all know the usual suspects that classified-ad gems. One, sadly, never
had been an immense part of have left an indelible mark on the evolved beyond the prototype stage.
that accordion’s glorious collective guitar psyche. The tones and And one got backburnered for years
sound equation. I began aesthetics of these canonized stacks but is now making a comeback. But
collecting as many amps and combos are forever linked with they all have one thing in common:
as possible, playing and the iconic images of legendary players Each is armed with authoritative
performing with them and bands, and some have even made sounds, tonal complexity, and burly
often. Because many such a splash that they’ve crossed over features. I hope they inspire you to
of them were used, to become household names with expand your horizons when looking for
maintenance soon became everyday music fans. an amp—or, at the very least, renew
a real problem—which The creations I’m highlighting here your appreciation for your own favorite
led to me getting my are so formidable that it’s a wonder unsung amps with stories to tell and
hands inside them and they remain a secret. They’re off-the- faces to fry!
studying how they work. beaten-path designs that are ominous Let’s dive in.

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 35

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Beamer (prototype)
uilt by Dane Beamish from fantastic. With its vast gain-selecting SPECS
Beamish Electronics in options (via a three-position preamp-gain
Manufacture date: Circa 1990
Cleveland, the Beamer started toggle), a solid-state effects loop (separate
Output: 100 watts
life as a Fender Twin Reverb—or at from the compression circuit’s), master
Power section: Four 6L6s
least the power and output transformers volume, reverb, and headroom knob—a
Bias: Fixed
check out to be Fender (the choke is a variable negative-feedback control that
Preamp: Four 12AX7s
Partridge). The cabinet appears to be changes the percussive quality of the
Phase inverter: One 12AX7
from a Sound City head, and the chassis amp’s response—the Beamer can cover
Rectifier: Solid-state
may be as well, but that’s where the everything from jazz to blues and hard
Controls: Master volume, gain,
similarities to either brand stop. The rock. Adding a gain pedal out front yields
treble, middle, bass, headroom,
preamp is where the most important even heavier vibes—or you can just crank
reverb, compressor threshold
differences lie: It uses a cathode-follower up the master volume and let the power
and attack, effects-loop send,
approach to drive not only the tone section do the talking. And Beamer
hi/med/lo preamp-gain
stack, but also the built-in compression doesn’t just take pedals extremely well,
voicing switch
circuit—which has its own effects loop it adds life to everything plugged into it.
Played through: Mesa/Boogie
for inserting additional pedals (like There’s string-to-string clarity and fullness
closed-back 2x12 with Celestion
an overdrive) that can alter the attack in spades, as well as a sonic physicality
Vintage 30s
envelope and fine-tune how aggressively beyond any other amp I’ve owned.
it clamps down on your signal. This As for the reverb, although it’s a tube-
makes it possible to have complete touch driven blackface Fender spring tank, it tweak the input-gain range and master
sensitivity at any volume or gain level. envelops your sound in a gooey, space- volume separately. You can plug into
The preamp also employs a traditional, filling ambience that sounds a lot like a low, medium, or high-gain inputs, and
long-tail-pair-style phase inverter—the deep plate reverb. The difference seems then you can select low, medium, or
type that’s been used in most Fenders and to come from using a 12AX7 driver, high sensitivity for that input. This
Marshalls since the mid 1960s because it which is higher gain than the typical allows you to get everything from small,
offers the cleanest, most balanced way to 12AT7. In the Beamer, the 12AX7 really Champ-like tones to high-headroom
deliver a signal to a power section. brings the dwell to the front—and with Fender sounds, or even Marshall tones
Of course, this seeming hodgepodge zero added noise. via the high-gain input and high-
of building approaches would mean What’s really stunning about the sensitivity setting. The 3-band EQ goes
nothing if the Beamer didn’t sound Beamer, though, is how it lets you from dark jazz tones to mosquito bright,
without any harsh or unusable settings.
Pair that with the headroom control,
and you’ve got a sound that can be
really soft and supple or upfront
and bold.
Beamish made very few of these amps,
and each one seems to have varied a bit.
Some were EL34-driven 100-watters.
Some used 6L6s, like mine. There’s
legend of a 50-watt model, too. Of the
people I know who have them, many
are on the road and used almost daily.
I believe in 1990 they sold for around
$1,500, though the prices were really
only disclosed to the lucky few who
commissioned them.


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lthough a lot of guitarists think somewhere between the typical 12AX7 SPECS
of thundering bass amps when used in most modern-day amps and the
Manufacture date: Circa
someone mentions Ampeg, the lower-gain 12AT7s used in vintage amps
early 1960s
company’s guitar amps of yore—including such as early Fender combos. I’ve built a
Output: 25–30 watts
the Jet and Reverberocket—are revered by lot of amps with 6SL7s in the front end
Power section: Two 6L6GCs
a much smaller but still sizable contingent because I enjoy their full sound, and the
Bias: Cathode with tremolo
of 6-stringers. I find Ampegs to be some Ampeg’s 15" ceramic Jensen speaker really
Preamp: Two 6SL7s (one for the
of the best combos out there in terms of complements this.
preamp, one running in parallel
how they break up when you push them While the M15 seems pretty normal
for the tremolo)
with humbuckers or your favorite gain at first glance, it’s got some unique things
Phase inverter: One 6SL7
pedal. I especially like the M15 because going on in terms of circuitry. Plug in,
Rectifier: 5U4
of its octal 6SL7-based preamp. Similar and your guitar signal journeys into
Controls: Volume and tone
to 9-pin 5751s, 6SL7s have a sound that’s the preamp, where it is driven hard to
for each of the two 1/4"
inputs, tremolo intensity,
tremolo speed, tremolo on/off
Speaker: 15" Jensen P15N

compensate for the loss of tone and volume

that you often get with old passive EQs.
From there it goes to the paraphrase-style
inverter (another 6SL7), and on to the
cathode-biased 6L6s. A paraphase inverter
is an older design that was basically a
common way to get an out-of-phase
version of the input signal, equal in
amplitude, to feed the power-tube inputs.
It isn’t the most balanced way to do this,
which is why it yields unique clipping
characteristics when pushed. Some describe
this type of circuit’s overdrive characteristics
as grainy, with a vibrant, almost “alive” feel.
But granular gain isn’t all that makes
the M15 so cool. Cranked, it’s gutsy rock
’n’ roll. But run it clean, and it’s a dream.
The tremolo is wonderfully lush and
harmonically rich. With pedals out front,
it really thumps and blooms with sustain.
And perhaps best of all, although the
M15’s power output may not seem that
high, a good specimen should be able to
hang in most medium to loud volume
situations. When looking for one of these
fun amps on the used market, expect to
pay between $600 and $900.

1966 FENDER®
I T E M : 1 1 0 0 2 5 6 93


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VTG 105
t’s very difficult to find information filtering in the power section ensure the SPECS
on Aims Amplifiers, but I believe sound is tight and focused, with a very
Manufacture date: Circa 1974
the now-defunct Phoenix, Arizona, immediate feel in terms of responsiveness.
Output: 100 watts
company was started by former Fender Given the VTG’s pedigree, features,
Power section: Two 6550s
employees sometime in the 1970s. As you and 4x10 configuration, it’s only natural
Bias: Fixed
might expect, the VTG 105’s design is to wonder how it compares to a Fender
Preamp: Four 12AX7s
similar to other Fender combos of the era. Super Reverb. But the fixed-bias 6550s
Phase inverter: One 12AT7
The preamp has a 12AT7 long-tail-pair keep it clean at much higher volumes
Rectifier: Solid-state
phase inverter that delivers accurate signal than a Super and give it a gain structure
Controls: Volume, treble,
balance and gain to the power tubes, more akin to a Twin Reverb’s. In fact,
middle, and bass knobs for both
and there’s also an optical tremolo circuit any breakup that’s apparent with this
channels, bright in/out slider
and tube-driven reverb. But there’s one amp seems to stem from the speakers
(one on each channel), reverb
major difference between the Aims and and closed-back cabinet design. Further,
knob (channel 2), reverb in/
most Fenders you’ll encounter—this 4x10 although the EQ sections are passive,
out slider (channel 1), tremolo
combo uses 6550 power tubes in a push- they have a surprisingly active sound.
speed and intensity knobs
pull (class-AB) output section. This single The bass knob offers deep, deep lows,
(channel 2), master volume
change alone means the VTG yields lots the treble can go really chimey, and the
Speakers: Four 10" ceramic-
of proud volume and crushing low end. middle control seems to dynamically
magnet models
And the solid-state rectifier and heavy affect how the other two EQ controls

respond. And while, circuit-wise, the

amp’s sine-wave tremolo and spring
reverb are similar in almost every way
to what you’d find in a Fender from the
This single same period, the reverb pan is mounted
rather intriguingly: The tank is uncovered
change and the springs are visible, but the pan
itself has been rigged with small springs
alone at the points where it attaches to the
chassis. This is to prevent mechanical
means vibrations from, say, a bumped cabinet
from transferring to the reverb springs
the VTG themselves. It’s not exactly the prettiest
implementation—the tank is basically
yields lots held in place by bent screws—but the

of proud sonic results are nevertheless outstanding.

The reverb is lush and warm, and more

volume and than capable of defining a small space

or instilling surf-y saturation, and the
crushing unorthodox “shock-mount” system
effectively stifles jarring distractions.
low end. The VTG 105 and other Aims amps
are pretty tricky to track down, but
despite this rareness they tend to fetch
pretty low prices—usually somewhere in
the $600 to $800 range.

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espite its striking resemblance right, three triodes in one valve!)—boosts SPECS
to vintage Ampeg SVT and and changes the input-signal impedance
Manufacture date: Circa 1975
current-production V-4B reissue (via the cathode follower) in order to
Output: 100 watts
bass heads, the original V4 was actually better drive the inductor-based midrange-
Power section: Four 7027s
intended for guitar. When I first serviced selection switch, which sets the midrange
Bias: Fixed
this venerable amp, I realized it’s anything knob’s midpoint at 300, 1,000, or
Preamp: Two 12AX7s, one
but typical. It offers a lot of unusual ways 3,000 Hz. Each of the switch’s settings
6K11, one 12DW7, and one
to tweak operation, and as I reviewed the effectively reinvents the way the bass and
6CG7 reverb driver
schematic during subsequent repairs I treble controls react.
Phase inverter: One 12AU7
became more and more intrigued. But wait, there’s more! A 12DW7
Rectifier: Solid-state
How’s the V4 different? For starters, valve (which is similar to a 12AU7)
Controls: Volume knob and
it has an extremely unique tube drives the preamp-out and power-amp-
3-position input-sensitivity
complement in both the preamp and in connections—two flexible options
switches for each of the two
the power stage. Two 12AX7s drive the that, even today, are pretty specialized
1/4" inputs, treble, midrange,
front end, which has a passive James tone and forward thinking. Meanwhile, the
bass, reverb, ultra-hi switch,
stack—an interesting circuit with a pair 12DW7’s second triode stage is used as
midrange-selection switch,
of filters that have an almost notching a paraphase inverter, and a 6CG7 drives
cab-impedance slider (2, 4, or
effect at lower settings, but that instill a the reverb tank. The V4 also uses a solid-
8 ohms), reverb-spring retainer
bit of character when set flat, and offer state rectifier and offers separate taps for
for minimizing rattle during
a surprising boost when cranked. It’s a screen voltages on the power transformer.
transport, hum-balance trim
subtractive filter, meaning that it takes As with the Beamish, the unusual
pot for curtailing tubes’ AC-
away some guitar signal when used, but circuit would mean nothing if the V4’s
filament noise
its tweakability is worth the tradeoff. full-bodied tone didn’t utterly dominate.
Played through: ’70s vertical
There are also two switches that set either If you want to brutalize your audience
Kustom 2x15 cab with
input’s sensitivity at 0 dB or pads them with thunderous lows, this amp has
Eminence Delta speakers
at -9 or -6 dBs. A 6K11 tube—a nifty you covered—especially through
bottle containing two 12AX7 sections something like an old Kustom 2x15
and one lower-gain triode section (that’s speaker cabinet. The 7027-driven power section stays pretty clean throughout the
travel of the volume controls, although
higher settings do elicit a pleasing
distortion with glassy top end but
no hint of harshness. Even aggressive
tones remain smooth and creamy. The
input-sensitivity options are fantastic
for making sure you get the amp’s best
tones from guitars with varying output
levels—but they’re also great for getting
the drive characteristics you prefer
at different amp volumes. The tone
controls offer incredible flexibility, and
at higher settings they can have a big
impact on the amount of drive available.
Though V4s have gained some
momentum in the used market recently,
you can still find them for around $450
to $600—which is truly a steal!

eet THE M
L 16

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Mama Soul Shaker 30
oul Shaker Amplification’s Jestin the EL34 power tubes sans negative SPECS
Puett makes amps that are feedback. (Mama can also be biased to
Manufacture date: Current
responsive, lively, and steeped in work with most octal tubes, too. KT66s
Output: 30 watts
classic circuit design. He borrows from are my second favorite.) The 6SL7 that
Power section: Two EL34s
topologies of yore, but he’s meticulous handles the tremolo is wired in parallel
Bias: Cathode
about selecting quality parts, and his and wiggles the amp’s bias to achieve
Preamp: One 6SN7 for EQ, and
amps boast boutique-quality builds and its swampy sound. There’s also an LED
one 6SL7 for the trem
functionality. Tonally, the Mama Soul indicator for tremolo speed.
Phase inverter: One 6SL7
Shaker 30—which debuted a few years The Soul Shaker is harmonically rich
Rectifier: GZ34
back but is now back in production—is and balanced, with a depth of harmonic
Controls: Volume, treble,
similar to a Valco or tweed Fender, but detail found in few amps. You play and it
tremolo speed and intensity,
it’s by no means a knock off. Its Brazilian just sings! Its gain structure sounds clean
variable line out, tremolo
cherry and curly-maple cabinet houses and clear, but when it clips, it does so in
footswitch, impedance selector
a point-to-point-wired circuit that uses the sweetest way. Every nuance and finger
for parallel speaker outputs
high-end parts like Jupiter and Mundorf motion is translated beautifully, and it
Played through: Mesa/Boogie
capacitors, as well as Takman 1-watt sounded huge with every cabinet I tried
closed-back 2x12 with Celestion
carbon-film resistors. it with. And even at low volume, the
Vintage 30s
The Mama’s preamp is a two-stage, tremolo is incredibly sweet and physical
cascade design that uses a 6SN7 tube to sounding. As you turn up, Mama
provide extended bandwidth and lower compresses in a very musical way, with Availability? The Mama Soul Shaker
impedance to the next stage. A single no flub or brash high end. And despite its isn’t rare in terms of being discontinued,
tone control is implemented later in the lone tone control, it never feels lacking in but it is currently only available by
circuit to aid in voicing. This means terms of expressive EQ. You don’t need a custom order. Soul Shaker amps are
you pretty much get straight tube tone bunch of knobs when it sounds right at priced in the $1,500 to $2,000 range and
into the 6SL7 phase inverter that feeds every setting. are well worth the money.

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YSR-1 Custom Reverb
lthough the Traynor YSR-1’s and earlier than Fender amps with a SPECS
topology is pretty comparable to similar design and output. But it also
Manufacture date: Late ’60s to
what you see in typical Fender stays warmer than a Marshall and has a
early ‘70s
and Marshall designs, there are a couple spongy feel that really responds to playing
Output: 40 watts
of important differences that help make it dynamics. Play soft, and it’s a whisper. Dig
Power section: Two EL34s
one of my favorite amps. First, the bright in, and paint peels. One of the neatest
Bias: Fixed
channel (input 1) has a treble-bleed cap on things about this particular Traynor is
Preamp: Five 12AX7s
its two inputs. Second, you can “jumper” how effects seamlessly integrate with its
Phase inverter: One 12AX7
(connect via short 1/4" cables) inputs fundamental tones. Meanwhile, the grid-
Rectifier: Solid-state
on both channels to blend their tonal bias, sine-wave-style trem can go nice and
Controls: Volume for each set
characteristics. These two seemingly minor slow, and the long-spring, tube-driven
of high- and low-impedance
departures from the norm yield huge reverb—which, in a clever use of space,
inputs, treble, bass, reverb,
dividends and make it possible to get a is mounted in a recessed cavity on the
tremolo speed and intensity
very full-range, bi-amped-type sound. bottom of the head cabinet—is deep but
Played through: ’70s vertical
The YSR-1 uses old-school Hammond darker than the typical Fender.
Kustom 2x15 with Eminence
transformers, a lively-sounding James- On the used market, Traynor Custom
Delta speakers
esque tone stack (like the Ampeg V4), Reverbs can be had for $400 to $650.
and a tweaked phase inverter, all of which But don’t buy them all—I’m still
add up to help it break up smoother shopping for a backup!

One of the neatest things about this particular Traynor is how

effects seamlessly integrate with its fundamental tones.”

Europe’s exclusive boutique guitar trade show
had a bold and beautiful second year.

t the end of October, Berlin saw the second visitors might appreciate is that all amps are housed
edition of the Holy Grail Guitar Show, an event in external sound cabins, a move that makes the
conceived and organized by the European Guitar two exhibition halls quiet and intimate, and fosters
Builders Association (EGB). For those not yet familiar communication amongst attendees and builders.
with the concept, it’s a show exclusively for builders of Held at Europe’s largest hotel, the Estrel Berlin, the 2015
handmade guitars and basses, and most of these luthiers show included 10 lectures by master luthiers from all around
make fewer than 25 instruments annually. Luthiers must the world, some 40 concerts, and plenty of demos of the
Photo by Steve Fjestad

be invited to exhibit, and they’re chosen by a committee many exhibited instruments. About 115 exhibitors and close
of the EGB, which follows strict nomination guidelines. to 1,000 guitars awaited attendees for the two-day outing.
Every exhibitor shares an equal space. Another Here are some highlights from selected luthiers at HGGS Part
difference that many NAMM and Frankfurt Musikmesse Two, and a look at what caught our eye this time around.

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 49

Chris Larkin Guitars
With nearly four decades of guitar and bass
building, Chris Larkin is without question
one of Europe’s most experienced luthiers.
In 1999, after years of attending traditional
trade shows, Chris opted to rely only on
his website to attract customers. The fact
that he was able to successfully run a shop
located on the West Coast of Ireland—far
from all of Europe’s music centers—speaks
volumes about his communication skills and
build quality. After 16 years of trade show Danou Guitars
abstinence, he calls his first HGGS appearance In one of his latest projects, Swiss luthier Daniel Meier wasn’t afraid
“the most rewarding experience of my of embracing new concepts of functionality and shape. He’s made
lutherie career.” a series of different “dual” guitars that, as opposed to the classic
Larkin brought four instruments that doubleneck, rotate within an outer frame. The design was initially
covered almost all categories: a 5-string something he created for himself, but the idea has now manifested in
acoustic bass, a parlor acoustic, a solid multiple variations of solidbody and acoustic pairings.
electric, and a small archtop jazz guitar. The Galileo sports a green electric guitar on one side and a
As a luthier partner of the Leonardo red nylon acoustic on the other. While the two guitars are rather
Research Project—an effort funded by the traditionally equipped with two humbuckers and a Schertler Lydia for
European Commission to support the use the acoustic, more effort went into conceiving the flip mechanism.
of non-tropical, local woods—most of his The solid hinge at the bottom is built around the output jack and is
instruments are built using Irish timber. the only mechanical connection while rotating. Extra strong magnets
Larkin’s Archtop Jazz model is an acoustic help position the guitar, and a lock keeps the desired guitar in
with a floating pickup, made of Canadian place. The two necks are angled apart by approximately 10 degrees.
spruce with back, sides, and neck from Irish Surprisingly, there isn’t much difference in playability between the
fiddleback sycamore and flamed Irish maple. electric and acoustic guitars, but those who play with the thumb over
The fretboard is Rocklite, an ebony substitute the neck might get stuck when working further up the fretboard. Meier
made from sustainable eucalyptus and is, in is another builder focusing on local woods. On the Galileo he used
Larkin’s words, “far more suitable than ebony maple, spruce, and walnut, finished with a glossy polyurethane coating.
for this purpose.” chrislarkinguitars.com danou-guitars.com

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Island Instrument Manufacture
Many builders in the boutique market are one-man shows, and this
describes the business Nicolas Delisle runs in the heart of Montreal,
Canada. He has his shop in a collective workspace of builders, and this
enables him to share ideas, knowledge, and constant experimentation
with his colleagues. While Delisle uses only domestic woods in his
instruments, he takes the “local” concept even further by outfitting
them exclusively with North American hardware and components.
Most of his builds are influenced by the 1950s and ’60s, with
design aesthetics reminiscent of Harmony, Silvertone, Danelectro, and
Teisco. Still, as a young builder, he’s also inspired by modern designs—
including headless instruments and ergonomic shapes—and enjoys
mixing retro and futuristic styles. For instance, the Shreddy Carnie is a
23.5"-scale headless guitar with a poplar body, an ash neck, two Mojo
humbuckers, and Hipshot hardware.
This contrasts with his more classic creations like the Re Ply, a limited
build of just two instruments. The Fancy Anzol, the only series model
Delisle brought to Berlin, is made from pine and features a maple neck and
an ivoroid pickguard. And true to his credo of “everything North American,”
it’s handpainted by a local Canadian artist. island-instruments.com

Jaen Guitars
Fernando Jaen is an engineer who quit his day job and went full-time
as a luthier in 2003, after a decade of guitar building as a secondary
job. He came to the Germany show carrying an archtop guitar with a
fitting name, the Berlin Grande. This model features a carved European
spruce top, curly maple back and sides, and a maple and mahogany
neck with an ebony fretboard and tailpiece.
He who is an engineer stays an engineer, so it’s fitting Jaen included
new technology hidden underneath the classic shell. In addition to the
heelless neck-body construction, the top and back have an internal layer
of Nomex honeycomb core. Manufactured using aramid fiber paper, this
synthetic material is soaked with a phenolic resin that strengthens both
surfaces while still keeping it light—a technique usually limited to the
tops of classical guitars. Jaen added his own humbucking pickups, and
protected the archtop with a classic nitro finish. guitarrasjaen.com

Kobler Guitars
In contrast to the many autodidactic builders in the electric guitar business, there
are far more studied ones among acoustic guitar builders. Austria’s Christina
Kobler took the path of attending the luthier school in Hallstatt, Austria, and
went straight into business after attaining her master’s degree in 2008.
The pictured high-gloss finished B-Series (00 model) comes with a spruce top
and flamed whitebeam sides and back. Other woods include ebony for both the
fretboard and bridge, and a mahogany neck.
It might be due to her classical education in building that Kobler’s instruments
have a clean design that’s focused on woodworking and craftsmanship. Although
her instruments are all unique builds, tailored to the specific needs of the
customer, none have a dramatic or modernist design. She lets the wood and
classic contours speak for themselves—a welcome rarity in a hall full of the
wildest shapes and candiest of colors. koblerguitars.com

Kathy Wingert
Kathy Wingert took the long trip from the
southern tip of Los Angeles to Berlin to show
her acoustic guitars. She’s another builder
who’s taken the classic route of a professional
apprenticeship with a violinmaker. Wingert
not only relies on traditional techniques and
dedication to tone and individuality, but also
draws on her extensive experience—she has
been in business more than 20 years. Her Jersey Girl Homemade Guitars
instruments come with hand-fitted dovetail This trio of luthiers—KazG, Akiko Oda, and Eiko Goto—is now based
neck joints and classic X bracing to support in Hokkaido, Japan, but the company was founded as a duo in 1991 in
the tops. Her experience allows her to Tokyo. Jersey Girl sets itself apart by carefully designing not only the
individually carve the braces and tone bars instrument, but also a whole artful composition around it, including
to the needs of the customer and the specific matching guitar “accessories.”
wood she’s working with. It’s not so much the technical details, but the typically Japanese love
Wingert is also well known for her of detail and consequence that makes Jersey Girl instruments unique,
spectacular harp guitars, but the pictured and they’re often accompanied by an appropriate effect pedal or strap.
Model F with its fanned-fret design shows she The Crow on a Scarecrow model is their first acoustic guitar. Although
isn’t afraid to enter new terrain. As a builder, visually more a mix of a flattop and archtop, they put a tremendous
I wonder: How did she carve the braces and amount of work in sculpting a complex and very organic bracing inside
bars to accommodate the asymmetrical the body. And for a cool option, buyers can choose the guitar as an
tensions of the 27.2" bass and 25.4" treble ensemble with a similarly designed pedal, strap, and arty postcard.
scale? This Model F has cocobolo back and Crow on a Scarecrow comes with a spruce top, a walnut neck, and
sides, a spruce top, and a black-and-white mahogany sides and back. The single-coil’s volume and tone control
ebony rosette. wingertguitars.com are stealthily placed on the back of the upper bout. jerseygirlhg.com

True Historic 1959 1650RT Royal Reverb
Les Paul in Vintage 35W 2x10 Tube Combo
Cherry Sunburst Amp
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S E E T H E S E I N S T R U M E N T S A N D M O R E AT G U I TA R C E N T E R . C O M / P L AT I N U M
Soultool Customized Guitars
Founded by Egon Rauscher in 1998 and located close to
Zurich, Switzerland, Soultool is known for minimalistic
designs and clean lines. Rauscher’s outfit offers just a
few basic shapes. In fact, the shape of the Laguz model
resembles another famous single-cut, but it boasts such
modern twists as a deeper cutaway and better access to
higher frets. Apropos frets: Besides the mid-hard steel
variant used on all models, another feature is called
2-Zone fretting. Here, frets one to seven are slightly
higher than the following upper frets. The advantage
should be an optimal setup with an almost straight neck.
Soultool limits their models to just a few woods—
mahogany, korina, or cedar for body and neck, and a pau
ferro or optional ebony fretboard—combined with one
Good Tone and one Häeussel pickup. The Junior Custom in
“squirrel grey” sports a rather uncharacteristic addition: a
Bigsby instead of their standard ABM wraparound bridge.
A customer at last year’s Holy Grail show asked if Egon
could do a guitar with a Gibson scale, a bridge humbucker,
and a Bigsby. Obviously Egon could and did, but it’s
unknown if the customer returned this year to check his
aided creation. soultool.com

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Zeal Guitars And Many More ...
Zeal is the two-man operation of Bastian Kanbach and One of the main trends at the show was the use of local
Oliver Reich. They had two variations of their Hydra woods, rather than tropical varieties. The European
model on display in Berlin. Hydra was Zeal’s first Commission-funded Leonardo Guitar Research Project gave
creation after forming in 2010, and the model has been a lecture and showed two nearly identical guitars, one made
diversified into two versions, a “male” and “female,” as from tropical woods and one from local alternatives, aiming
they call it. The two versions are the black Obscura, which to prove minimal or non-existent tonal differences.
has 24 frets and a 25.5" scale length, and the white Fanned frets were another trend surfacing in new
Custom model with 22 frets and a 24.75" scale length. builds on the scene for 2015. Now that the Novax patent
It’s easy to guess which is which, as the Obscura has a has expired, many luthiers are exploring the multi-scale
powerful output designed for progressive sounds, and concept to maintain the tension in the lower register of their
the Custom was built to yield a “more cultivated tone.” extended range guitars.
Designed with simplicity in mind and Zeal’s creed The inaugural 2014 Holy Grail show turned out to be a
of, “It’s a good design when you can’t take any more successful direct-sales opportunity, and many luthiers were
of it away,“ the guitars sport a single DiMarzio PAF on surprised at how many customers showed up to buy straight
the Obscura and a Bare Knuckle Abraxas on the white from the booth. Also many exhibitors were shocked by the
Custom. Apart from these gender-based interpretations, extraordinary artisan efforts of their colleagues, and this led
both feature a special finish, something the duo to stiffer competition for this year’s show. And next year’s
experiments with often. Zeal finishes include golden mix of builders will be entirely fresh, keeping with the Holy
brass, polished steel, and even rust. The Hydra shown Grail stipulation that exhibitors cannot display more than
here is a non-metal PUR base coat with an atomized two years in a row. Hopefully in 2016 these new builders will
spray of nitro on top of it, which forms a smooth and once again deliver what everybody wants to see: beautiful,
satin-like finish. zeal-guitars.com handmade guitars.

䌀甀琀氀愀猀猀 䤀瘀漀爀礀 圀栀椀琀攀

匀琀椀渀最刀愀礀 嘀椀渀琀愀最攀 吀漀戀愀挀挀漀 䈀甀爀猀琀

䌀䰀䄀匀匀䤀䌀 䐀䔀匀䤀䜀一⸀
䴀伀䐀䔀刀一 倀䔀刀䘀伀刀䴀䄀一䌀䔀⸀
䌀爀愀昀琀攀搀 昀爀漀洀 漀爀椀最椀渀愀氀 䴀甀猀椀挀 䴀愀渀 ㄀㤀㜀 ᤠ猀 搀攀猀椀最渀猀Ⰰ 琀栀攀 匀琀椀渀最刀愀礀 愀渀搀 䌀甀琀氀愀猀猀 栀愀瘀攀 戀攀攀渀 爀攀ⴀ椀洀愀最椀渀攀搀 眀椀琀栀 䔀爀渀椀攀 䈀愀氀氀ᤠ猀
最爀漀甀渀搀戀爀攀愀欀椀渀最 攀渀最椀渀攀攀爀椀渀最Ⰰ 搀攀氀椀瘀攀爀椀渀最 甀渀洀愀琀挀栀攀搀 瀀氀愀礀愀戀椀氀椀琀礀Ⰰ 昀攀攀氀 愀渀搀 琀漀渀攀⸀ 䈀漀琀栀 洀漀搀攀氀猀 昀攀愀琀甀爀攀 甀瀀搀愀琀攀搀
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氀漀挀欀椀渀最 琀甀渀攀爀猀Ⰰ 挀漀洀瀀攀渀猀愀琀攀搀 渀甀琀Ⰰ 椀渀渀漀瘀愀琀椀瘀攀 琀漀渀愀氀 瘀漀氀甀洀攀 挀漀渀琀爀漀氀 愀渀搀 漀瘀攀爀猀椀稀攀搀 㐀 漀瘀攀爀 ㈀ 栀攀愀搀猀琀漀挀欀猀Ⰰ 搀攀氀椀瘀攀爀椀渀最
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䌀愀氀氀 琀栀攀 攀砀瀀攀爀琀猀 愀琀 㠀  ⸀㈀㈀㈀⸀㐀㜀   簀 匀圀䔀䔀吀圀䄀吀䔀刀⸀䌀伀䴀


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Unsung Players Who Shaped Guitar as We Know It


The funk bass legend and coleader of Kool & the Gang talks about developing his
low-down sound and his secrets for riding the tide of music history for 50 years.

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 61

Bassist Robert lot of musicians are cool, but
“Kool” Bell’s there’s only one Kool, as in
half-century as
bassist Robert “Kool” Bell, who,
a performer and
bandleader has along with his saxophone-playing brother
taken him from Ronald, founded and has led the pop-
hole-in-the-wall funk band Kool & the Gang for close
clubs to the top to 50 years. Thanks to a succession
of the charts
to England’s
of propulsive dance-floor classics—
Glastonbury “Hollywood Swinging,” “Jungle Boogie,”
Festival and “Ladies Night,” and “Celebration” are
opening for just a few—the group has sold more than
Van Halen’s
70 million albums, survived and thrived
2012 tour.
through numerous trends, collected
practically every conceivable award, and
put their own imprint on cinematic
benchmarks like Saturday Night Fever and
Pulp Fiction.
Key to the band’s sound and success
is Bell’s punchy, no-frills, extremely
hooky bass playing. Combining the
harmonic contours of jazz with the
smooth melodicism of ’60s R&B, Bell
crafted lively, memorable riffs helped
to bring funk from underground dance
clubs to AM radio dials, put the Soul
Train dancers through their paces, and
influenced bassists such as Flea, Carmine
Rojas, and Bernard Edwards. Since the
’90s, Bell’s bass lines have found second
and even third lives as samples on records
by artists as diverse as Will Smith,
Madonna, and Public Enemy, among
many others.
This past October the group added
two more titles to their list of honors, as
they were inducted into the New Jersey
Hall of Fame and received a star on the
Hollywood Walk of Fame. But there’s
still one award that eludes the veteran
hit-makers, and Bell doesn’t need much
prodding to sound off about it.
“Why aren’t we in the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame?” he asks emphatically.
“We don’t have enough hits? We haven’t would ultimately inform his style as a “I think that’s why I play bass the
sold enough records? We ask ourselves bassist, involved turning old paint cans way I do,” he continues. “I always hear
about this all the time. The requirements into percussion instruments. “That’s the drums, and I always try to work
are you have to have been together for what Ronald and I used to do,” he says. with the drummer. The drums and the
25 years—we’ve got 50 years on us! “We’d empty paint out of the cans and bass were always together in Kool & the
Hopefully, one year they’ll get to us.” turn them into bongo drums. Depending Gang’s music. If you don’t have that for
on how much paint was left in the cans, a foundation, no way will the rest of the
From One String to Four that’s what created certain tones. We music stand on top of it.”
Bell was born on October 8, 1950, in would sit on a hill and play our paint- The Bell family moved to Jersey City,
Youngstown, Ohio. He remembers his can bongos—you’d hear them echoing New Jersey, in the early ’60s, and before
first attempt at making music, and what throughout the valley below. long Ronald took up the saxophone while




Bell and crew Robert ditched the paint cans for an were bigger than on a guitar, so I played of course, played
changed their actual set of bongos. The Bell brothers it pretty well. After that, I gravitated all the hits of the
band’s name
got together occasionally with a trumpet- toward the bass. My mother bought me day,” Bell says.
from Kool & the
Flames to Kool playing neighborhood friend, Robert a cheap bass from Macy’s called a Zim- “We played the
& the Gang to “Spike” Mickens. “That’s how I first Gar, and off I went. I didn’t have any Motown stuff,
avoid confusion picked up the guitar,” Bell explains. “We training—I just used my ear.” too, and that’s
with James were over at Spike’s house, just messing Part of Bell’s ear training involved another way I
Brown’s Famous
Flames. “We
around, and I saw that his brother had listening to and studying bass greats like developed my
didn’t want any a guitar. I picked it up, and all at once I Ray Brown, Ron Carter, James Jamerson, bass chops. The bass in those songs
trouble with the started playing ‘Comin’ Home Baby’— and Reggie Workman. “Those guys knew was so creative and melodic. You had to
‘Godfather,’” he that was a big song by Herbie Mann. how to play to the song and how to work move on the fretboard. Great stuff to play
says. “We were
You could play the whole thing on the E off the drummer,” he notes. “I didn’t when you’re getting your act together.”
young, but we
weren’t crazy.” string. I got it down pretty good.” really concern myself with trying to learn
The Bell brothers and Mickens, along fancy stuff. My main goal was to drive Becoming “Kool”
with Ricky Westfield on keyboards and the groove within the music we were Eventually, the band changed its name
George Brown on drums, formed the playing, and starting to write. So my style to Kool & the Flames, adopting Bell’s
Jazz Birds in 1964 and started gigging really developed as the band got going.” nickname, but with a spelling twist.
around New York’s Greenwich Village. The Jazz Birds became the Jazziacs, “‘Cool’ was my nickname ever since I
One night, during a set at the Café adding saxophonist Dennis “Dee Tee” was in Ohio,” he explains. “It just sort of
Wha?, Ronald spotted a spare bass guitar Thomas and guitarist Charles Smith to stayed with me. But there was another
sitting around and suggested that his the lineup, and over the next few years, as guy in Jersey City who called himself
brother give it a try. “He said, ‘Why don’t they refined a mix of soul, jazz, and funk, ‘Cool,’ so I just became Kool with a ‘K.’ I
you pick that up and we’ll play ‘Comin’ they became the New Dimensions and, liked that better anyway.”
Home Baby’?” Bell recalls. “So I did. It later, the Soul Town Revue. “We were The final change to what would
had only four strings, and the strings influenced by the Motown Revue, who, become their famous band moniker


dUg Pinnick. Unmistakable in every way --that
voice, the songwriting, his style, and, of course, the
dUg tone.

Since the formation of King’s X in the ‘80s, dUg has

been one of the most influential players to garner
attention for the then hardly used, 12-string bass.
dUg also devised his own method of using guitar and
bass amps together to merge high-end distortion with
low-end bass. The combination resulted in a sound
as subtle as a freight train, yet ironically musical and
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came about after they signed on By 1969, Kool & the Gang were on a succession of live and studio albums. Their
with manager Gene Redd Jr., packing clubs throughout the Tri- most popular release during this period was 1971’s
who also worked with James State Area, providing Gene Redd Live at the Sex Machine, which yielded three
Brown. Brown’s backing band was with enough ammo to score the singles: the originals “Funky Man” and “Who’s
known as the Famous Flames, so group a deal with De-Lite Records. Gonna Take the Weight?” along with a furious
Bell suggested that Kool & the Redd pushed the band to adopt a rendition of Sly & the Family Stone’s “I Want to
Flames become Kool & the Gang. more commercial sound on their Take You Higher.”
“We didn’t want any trouble with self-titled debut album from ’69, “It was a mixture of what we did in the ’60s—
the ‘Godfather,’” he says with a which peaked at number 43 on the the James Brown meets the Motown sound—mixed
laugh. “We were young, but we Billboard R&B chart. Over the next with the horns,” says Bell. “We were really getting
weren’t crazy.” few years, the group honed its sound the instrumental thing down, and to that we added
these street chants on songs like ‘Funky Man.’”
The group found themselves at an artistic and
commercial crossroads in 1973. Although now
a major live draw on the East Coast, they were
virtually unknown in the rest of the U.S. “We
could sell out the Apollo Theater,” Bell remembers,

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“and we were big in D.C., but we needed a hit
record on the pop charts to take us all the way. It
was kind of a make-or-break time for us.”
Kool & the Gang’s label suggested that the
band cover “Soul Makossa,” a recent crossover hit
by Cameroonian saxist and vibes player Manu
Dibango, and even arranged rehearsals with
the band and that track’s producer, Rolande Le
Couviour. “They said, ‘We need a hit, and since you
guys haven’t had any hits, this might be the right
move,” says Bell. “We went in with him and gave it
a shot, but it wasn’t happening. So we said, ‘Let us
try and see if we can do something by ourselves.’”
The band locked themselves in a New York
rehearsal room—“We just started groovin’ and
funkin’”—and by the time they left at 11 that
night, they had written “Jungle Boogie,” “Funky
Stuff,” and “Hollywood Swinging.”
“After that, there were no more calls from the
record company,” Bell says with a laugh. “We
had the songs, we had terrific horn parts, and
everything was slammin’.”

Storming the Charts

All three dance gems were released on the band’s
self-produced 1973 album Wild and Peaceful, with
“Funky Stuff ” hitting No. 5 on the R&B chart,
while “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging”
reached No. 4 and No. 6, respectively, on Billboard’s
Hot 100 singles chart. “Musically, it was a Kool &
the Gang approach,” Bell says. “I locked in with
George Brown, and I created bass lines that worked
with wherever he wanted to go. ‘Jungle Boogie’ has
a very strong bass riff that works in unison with the
keyboards, and then the horns. The bass is part of
the hook. That stuff gets people dancing, and when
you do that, you’re gold.”

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Along the way, Bell had graduated all had to make some adjustments, but
from his Zim-Gar bass to Fender Jazz the payoff was worth it.”
and Precision basses. “I really loved the Taylor made his debut on the 1979
Fenders,” he says, “but their necks were album Ladies Night, which included the ROBERT “KOOL” BELL’S GEAR
a little wide for me. From there I started lush groover “Too Hot” and the dance-
playing Alembic basses. I have small floor title track smash. “I was going to all
hands, and their Oasis basses were perfect the clubs in New York City—Studio 54,
for me.” Regine’s, all that,” says Bell. “I noticed that
• Three Zon Sonus Special 4 models
Bell often paired his instruments with they would have ‘ladies night’ every Friday.
Fender bass amps, but during the ’70s We already had a track that George Brown
he switched to Sunn amplifiers. “They was working on, and I said, ‘Let’s try to
• Eden WT800
made great amps, but we had a problem work “ladies night” in there.’ The bass line
• Eden D610XST6 6x10 (for low end)
with their stuff,” he says. “Not because and the drums were tight, and we fit the
• Eden D410XLT 4x10 (for high end)
we didn’t like the gear; it was because horns in with what the vocals were doing.
of a trucking situation. We had these The rest was history. We had a huge hit.”
two guys driving our equipment out to The group kicked off the ’80s in EFFECTS
California, and one day the truck caught full-on celebration mode, picking up • Avalon U5 preamp
fire and we lost everything. It was tragic.” two American Music Awards for “Ladies
Kool & the Gang continued to mix Night.” In the spirit of things, Ronald STRINGS
their horn-fueled blend of R&B and funk Bell presented the band with an epic • DR HI-Beam (.045–.105)
on a trio of successive albums: 1974’s party anthem that seemed to capture
Light of Worlds, Spirit of the Boogie from both their collective moods and the
1975, and 1976’s Love & Understanding. zeitgeist of the times. “‘Celebration’ dance stuff. With ‘Joanna,’ we were a
By the end of ’76, the disco craze kicked sounded great the second we heard it,” little too pop for them.”
in hard and the band adapted to a more Bell remembers. “It had the ‘ya-hoos,’ a
streamlined musical approach on the nice down-home feel, and the horns fit A New State of Affairs
album Open Sesame—the title cut of right in. I basically hold down the fort The next five years saw the band digging
which would appear a year later in the on the bass, but I do a tricky little intro back to the funk on songs like “Fresh”
soundtrack for the film Saturday Night thing I’m proud of. And the song kicked and “Misled” (from 1984’s Emergency). At
Fever. “We didn’t really have to change it for us—we had our biggest hit yet.” the same time, they paid more and more
too much to keep up with disco,” Bell In 1983, guitarist Charles Smith attention to their live act, pouring more
recalls. “The idea was to keep the Kool & started tinkering with an ode to his money into their stage production. “It
the Gang identity but stay on the edge of mother called “Dear Moms.” It was a was the era of the big show,” Bell notes.
what was happening in the clubs. ‘Open departure for the band—an unabashed “Earth, Wind & Fire had the whole
Sesame’ was a song for musicians; it had pop ballad with no traces of funk, R&B, nine yards, and Parliament-Funkadelic
some very complicated horns, but they or disco. J.T. Taylor tried to navigate were landing a mothership onstage. We
sounded smooth with the disco beat. his way around the title, but the words had to compete, so we went wild with
Getting on Saturday Night Fever kept us felt awkward; they just didn’t roll off his production. The crowds dug it.”
going strong, and it probably brought us tongue. “So we decided, ‘How about a Bell doesn’t recall any tensions between
even more fans.” girl’s name?’” says Bell. “We tried a bunch J.T. Taylor and the band leading up to a
Toward the end of the decade, the of names out, and ‘Joanna’ fit the hook 10-date Christmas holiday engagement
band made their biggest change yet, the best. It’s funny, because right around in Atlantic City in 1988, so he was taken
when, at the suggestion of their new the same time, Toto had their song aback when, after the singer lost his voice
producer, Eumir Deodato, they added ‘Rosanna.’ It was a weird coincidence, but during the second show, he announced
James “J.T.” Taylor as lead singer. it wasn’t intentional.” that he was leaving. “We were like, ‘You’re
To accommodate both Taylor’s vocal “Joanna” was yet another Kool & the leaving? For what?’” Bell says. “It just
style and the band’s move toward Gang smash, peaking at No. 2 on both didn’t make sense. And J.T. said, ‘I’ve got
more mainstream pop, the horns were the U.S. and U.K. pop singles charts. But a better deal, and I’ve got some problems
de-emphasized, which, Bell says, “took a many longtime fans felt as if the band with management.’ There were all kinds of
bit of work here and there. It wasn’t like had now strayed too far from its roots. reasons. We honestly didn’t see it coming.”
we got rid of the horns altogether; we “We got some flack for that song,” Bell For the next eight years, the group
just moved them around and had them says. “Our audience, the ‘Gang Heads,’ soldiered on, concentrating on international
punctuate the accents. I probably got a as we called them, they liked ‘Hollywood markets and working with various
little less busy with my playing, too. We Swinging’ and ‘Jungle Boogie’ and the singers—Skip Martin, Odeen Mays, and






Gary Brown. “It was a trying time,” Bell straw,” recalls Bell. “When he didn’t show celebration band.’ David told me, ‘Kool,
admits. “We had great people singing with up for that gig, we had to let him go.” when I was comin’ up, I used to play your
us, but it wasn’t quite the same as when To fill the lead singer slot, the band music. In the ’80s we were the rock party
we had J.T.” As it turned out, Taylor was went back to Skip Martin and Odeen band, and you guys were the pop/R&B
struggling as well—his three solo albums Mays before promoting guitarist Shawn party band. So let’s put the bands together
failed to reach mainstream audiences— McQuiller, who had joined in 1991, to and throw a big party.’”
and in 1996 he contacted the band and the frontman position, where he remains Booked for 48 shows on Van Halen’s
expressed his desire to return. “We wanted to this day. “We’ve had some bumps in 2012 sell-out tour of U.S. arenas, Kool
to rock ’n’ roll, so that was fine by us,” Bell the road, but nothing we couldn’t ride & the Gang played to their biggest
says. “He made some demands, like billing right on through,” Bell says. “Shawn’s audiences in years. Even so, Bell admits
us as ‘Kool & the Gang featuring J.T. a big talent, playing guitar and singing. that he was trepidatious about facing a
Taylor.’ We went back and forth and finally With him and all the other guys, we’ve sea of (predominantly white) hard-rock
agreed on that.” got the brand solid.” fans. “We hit them with some of our rock
Kool & the Gang quickly recorded the The group was solid enough onstage tracks first,” he says. “Then we got to our
album State of Affairs with Taylor, and at England’s Glastonbury Festival in June big hits, and the crowd started getting
while the record failed to connect with 2011—so much so that Van Halen singer into it.” By the time the band got to
audiences, it did score high marks with David Lee Roth, who caught their set, put “Ladies Night,” Bell recalls seeing the girls
critics. “We thought we were on a road in an excited call to Eddie and Alex Van in the arenas getting out of their seats to
to a return,” Bell says. “We were playing Halen to rave about what he’d witnessed. dance. “That’s when I knew we had ’em,”
good shows, working on new material. All As Bell explains it, “David said to them, he says with a laugh. “Finally, we played
seemed fine.” But by 1999, Taylor again ‘I’ve got the perfect opening band for our ‘Celebration,’ and that’s when the ladies
began to express his doubts about being tour next year—Kool & the Gang.’ They looked at the hard-core dudes and said,
in the band. He started missing shows, were like, ‘What?! Kool & the Gang?’ ‘You’d better get your asses up right now
including an important festival date in But David convinced them: ‘The tour’s a and start dancing!’ And they did. We went
Germany, in 2001. “That was the final celebration for us, and they’re the ultimate down a knockout. It was pretty cool.”


Hands Verses Gear?


Few would t’s an often-debated subject on the overall tone and diminish the nuances
dispute the guitar forums. Someone will start a in your playing. I’ve seen plenty of
level of magic
discussion thread with a polarizing guitarists who start out playing rock and/or
in Eddie Van
Halen’s hands, title like “Tone Is in the Hands!” A few metal gradually change their tonal approach
or how much his days and many pages later, the debate with practice and experience. As they hone
hands contribute will rage on with some insisting that their technique, they naturally gravitate
to his tone. tone is only affected by the gear being towards playing with less distortion since
used and others insisting it is, indeed, all a somewhat cleaner tone allows for more our shoes, his sounds are very similar to
in the hands. This month, I’ll share my expression and uniqueness. me no matter what he plays through.
thoughts and observations on this topic. It’s harder to play without all that Which is to say, he sounds just great.
Interestingly, the debate is usually overdrive and compression to help smooth
only among electric guitarists. I think it’s out mistakes or sloppy technique, so • Eddie Van Halen. When King Edward
sort of a given that any acoustic guitar I’m not suggesting that playing with a exploded on the scene in 1978, many
can sound different depending how you completely clean tone is always the way guitarists tried to emulate his technique
play it. Use a hard pick, a thin pick, or to go. Overdrive and distortion are such a and his tone, but most fell short by a
nylon pick—they will all give different huge part of rock, blues, metal, and lead long shot. Even though Eddie’s core tone
sounds. Play with your fingers and no guitar, but I think it’s advisable to strike a was relatively dirty, his overall technical
pick, and you’ll get a vastly different balance between distortion/overdrive and fluidity and explosive right-hand attack
sound. There’s also a huge range of clarity/dynamics. It’s like cooking! Use just rang through loud and clear. You may
tonal color and dynamics that depend enough spice (distortion, in this case) to have heard the story about Van Halen
on where and how hard you attack the make the dish flavorful. Too much and opening for Ted Nugent in 1978. Ted
strings. The construction, materials, and you’ll overpower all the other nuanced was taken aback by young Edward’s tone
size of an acoustic guitar certainly affect flavors. Tip: Dial in the drive and distortion while standing side stage for a Van Halen
its sound, but a player’s chosen dynamics just to the point where everything is soundcheck, and asked if he could play
and technique (or lack of dynamics and relatively easy to play, and then back it off through Eddie’s rig. When he did—lo
technique) contributes in a massive way a bit. You’ll have to work a little harder, but and behold—he sounded just like… Ted!
to the overall sound. So why would the your playing will improve over time and
electric guitar be any different? your style will shine through clearer. • Blake Mills. Still relatively unknown is
I’m a firm believer that many of the Four players come to mind—two Blake Mills, but probably not for long.
tonal and dynamic variations that occur legends and two younger players—who He has quickly amassed an impressive
on an acoustic guitar will carry over to I consider to be excellent examples of range of session credits by performing on
the electric. However, it can be said that guitarists with “toneful hands.” releases from artists such as Dixie Chicks,
electric guitars and amps tend to have Lana Del Rey, and Norah Jones. Blake is
a more limited dynamic and frequency • Jeff Beck. When I think of players able to coax an incredible range of tonal
range than acoustics. There’s usually whose touch and technique prove the colors with his hands—from clean, clear,
some degree of compression going on argument that tone is largely in the and delicate to distorted and blistering.
due to the nature of tube amps and how hands, Jeff Beck is No. 1 on my list. It’s
they overdrive. Also, typical 10" and 12" almost uncanny how much command Until next month, I urge you to back the
speakers have a limited frequency range and control he has over the guitar. Jeff gain down a tad, experiment with different
since they are generally midrange focused. plays primarily without a pick—just his techniques, and hone your chops to
So, to some degree, there’s a tonal and right-hand fingers and thumb—and this perfection. Your playing will improve and
dynamic homogenization that occurs when allows him to achieve a huge range of so will your tone. “Practice cures most tone
compared to the rather-wide dynamic and tones not possible any other way. He’s issues,” says my good pal John Suhr.
frequency range of acoustic guitars. a master at utilizing both the whammy
This uniformity increases dramatically bar and volume controls to vary pitch PETER THORN
is an L.A.-based guitarist who has
when we guitarists pile on the gain, dynamics and vibrato. toured with Chris Cornell, Melissa
Photo by Rich Osweiler

distortion, or fuzz. The more distorted the Etheridge, Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi, and
many others. He released a solo
signal gets, the more compressed the tone • Joe Bonamassa. Joe has honed his album, Guitar Nerd, in 2011. Read
becomes. And the more distorted the guitar chops to near perfection. Even though he more at peterthorn.com.

sound, the more the gear will determine changes up his rigs like most of us change



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premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 75

like painting,” says Dave aftermath of Mustaine’s departure from How’s the transition
Mustaine, “but I’m probably Metallica in 1983, he connected with into the new line-up
more partial to sculpture. Ellefson in Los Angeles and refined the been so far?
And I can find a lot of maj- template for thrash metal. After the Mustaine: Actually, we
esty in great architecture. I think that’s band’s opening salvo—the indie release never played together in the same
really helpful when you’re writing music.” Killing Is My Business… and Business room prior to being on tour. And that, to
Calling in from a tour stop in India, Is Good!—Megadeth’s combination of me, is just mind-boggling. It reminds me
the Megadeth frontman, guitarist, speed, power, and attitude would lead of some of the baby bands I was in when
cofounder, and all around mastermind to a major label deal, a rapid flight to you’ve got, like, six rehearsals together
has just broken off from a story about the summit of the metal world, and, and you’re out headlining festivals.
the band’s 15th studio album, Dystopia, eventually, gain the group a foothold
to answer one of those obligatory among mainstream rock fans as well. How did the material for Dystopia
interview questions about art and musical No one would call it a smooth ride. come together?
influences. And after more than an hour Always marked by lineup changes, Mustaine: Much like any other Megadeth
of conversation with him and Megadeth Megadeth dealt with personnel issues that record, the songs have pieces that I’ve
cofounder and bassist David “Junior” eventually reached the band’s core in the written [over time]. I write in segments.
Ellefson, it’s easy to see the connection early 2000s, when a feud between Ellefson Some of the songs on this record were
between stone, steel, and the thundering and Mustaine triggered the bassist’s written in the studio, but with some of
riffs that hold together this towering departure. Megadeth rebounded with one the songs, parts were written as far back as
follow-up to 2013’s Super Collider. of its most successful albums, 2004’s The 30-plus years ago.
That album sold well, debuting at No. System Has Failed, while Ellefson formed I’ve only written a complete song from
6 on Billboard’s albums chart, but got the band F5 and, later, joined Avian, beginning to end a couple of times. The
a lukewarm reception from critics and recorded with Soulfly, and kept busy with first was “In My Darkest Hour” from
some longtime fans. Now, the driving a range of other musical projects. 1988’s So Far, So Good… So What!, when
power of Dystopia presents a band on a By the end of the decade, the Cliff [Burton, Metallica’s bassist] died. I
mission—a unit with a renewed sense of relationship between the two Daves was so heartbroken that I went and got a
purpose and, thanks to a new line-up, had thawed to the point that Ellefson guitar and wrote the song. The other time
fresh cohesion. rejoined for 2011’s TH1RT3EN, his was “Use the Man” [from 1997’s Cryptic
The sound they’ve constructed stands first album with the group since 2001’s Writings]—the same kind of process.
as a monument to Megadeth’s status The World Needs a Hero. At the time, Something traumatic had happened and I
as one of thrash metal’s iconic outfits, Mustaine said the album captured the wrote the song from beginning to end.
delivered with a fury that harkens back “proudest moments of my musical
to the band’s roots and a finesse that career.” The partnership between the Some have called this album a return
shows that a group can mature and still two thrash metal architects has remained to your glory days. Do you buy that?
rock like a pile driver. The album’s 13 solid ever since. Mustaine: I liked a lot of the music we
songs are built, as always, on the spine of Dystopia was recorded in Nashville wrote in the 1980s and very early ’90s. I
Mustaine’s rhythm playing and riveted in with Mustaine, who recently relocated thought we were really able to assemble
place by Ellefson’s steam-hammer bass, to Tennessee, in the producer’s chair melody and heaviness and pull it off. The
and then spiked into the stratosphere by along with Alice in Chains and Slayer song “Dystopia” reminds me a lot of stuff
the fleet, melodic attack of new addition producer Toby Wright. Besides the that was on [1990’s] Rust in Peace—really
Kiko Loureiro, who was formerly lead two Daves and Loureiro, the new crew in-your-face, ripping stuff where each
guitarist in the Brazilian metal band also includes drummer Chris Adler, segment would dovetail into the next, and
Angra. He replaced Chris Broderick, who on holiday from Lamb of God. Shawn have these remarkable scenes in between.
ended his six-year tenure in November Drover, who spent a decade behind There’ll be a part playing and it will go
2014. And Mustaine’s pointed lyrics the kit in Megadeth, joined Broderick into the next part and you’ll be saying,
continue to illuminate the world’s dark to form their own new band, Act of “These two parts don’t go together at all,
corners, wherever they’re found—the Defiance. The current, rejuvenated but, boy, they sure fit well [laughs].”
boardroom, the killing fields, the White Megadeth line-up will kick off a North
House, or the human heart. American tour in February. Do you start with the guitar, or do you
Dystopia may not precisely be a When I began our interview by asking write in your head and then figure it out?
“comeback,” but, as Ellefson puts it, “a year about the goals for Megadeth’s latest Mustaine: Well, I’m self-taught so I don’t
ago, Megadeth was in a very different place.” incarnation, Mustaine replied, “I’m very really know how to play formally. I don’t
Actually, the band has been in many excited about the lineup change. And our like practicing either. I’m the kind of guy
“different places” over the years. In the goal is to rule the world.” that, when I pick up a guitar and start

playing, I’m trying something new all
the time. I don’t go over scales or runs.
It usually comes in bits and pieces—like
making a puzzle, I guess, or adding one
piece of track after another on a train track.
When a song is done, I like being
able to sit with it for a little while and
go back and fix it. We had that luxury
• Dean Dave Mustaine VMNT SVB
on this record and we haven’t had that
• Dean Dave Mustaine VMNT
for quite a while. Ellefson refreshed
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my memory about that and said, “You
• Dean Dave Mustaine Zero XO
know, bro, it’s nice not to have to go
• Dean V Dave Mustaine Angel of Death
in there between breaks in touring and
• Dean V Dave Mustaine
say, ‘You’ve got two months off now—
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get in there and make a fuckin’ record
• Dean Dave Mustaine Mako acoustic
[laughs].’” I love our label [Universal]
right now!
How did the arrangements evolve? • Marshall JVM410H
Mustaine: The songs told us what • Marshall JCM 800 Randy Rhoads model
they wanted. It’s something I haven’t • Fractal Axe-Fx II
experienced in a very long time. Ellefson • Marshall 1960BV Dave Mustaine 4x12
came out to Leipers Fork [Tennessee], Signature cabs with G12 Vintage 30s
and I said, “We’ve got all the songs • Marshall EL34 100/100
written already, let me show them to you Dual Monobloc Power Amps
real quick.” We had tried to do some of
them when I was living in Cali before EFFECTS
I moved out to Tennessee. We actually • XTS Precision Multi-Drive
recorded all the bass parts first. • Xotic Effects BB Preamp
Ellefson: It was an interesting process. • Boss SD-1 Super OverDrive
I don’t know of any other record that • TWA Triskelion 2.0 Harmonic Energizer
started with recording the bass to a click • Furman PL Plus DMC power conditioner
track [laughs]. I’d worked with Dave on • Radial JDX 48 guitar amp direct box
some demos almost a year earlier. We • Rocktron All Access MIDI controller
started putting bass parts down, going • Rocktron HUSH Pro noise reduction unit
back and forth with some ideas, and • Furman PL Plus power conditioner
then watching those songs develop, and • Whirlwind 4-channel MultiSelector
hearing those developments when they
were happening. When Chris and Kiko
came into the group, things moved very
quickly to a whole other level. By the
• Cleartone customs (.010–.052 for
time I was in carving bass parts, this
standard tuning, .011–.054 for D tuning)
juggernaut was taking off and it’s been
• Cleartone .73 mm
incredible to see the arrangements were
• Shure UHF-R wireless system
definitely there.
• Shure UA845 antenna combiner
• Shure UA870WB paddle antennas
Was recording that way a challenge?
Ellefson: In Megadeth, the drums and
Dave’s rhythm guitar have always defined
Photo by Chapman Baehler

not only the structure of the song, but

also the notation of the riff. In the studio,
at least I’d have that framework—the two
building blocks. I could be the mortar
between the bricks and glue things together.




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How did you get the feel without how each other plays and know how and I were essentially homeless and would squat
the guitar and drums as a guide? a Megadeth record should sound, and in people’s homes to have a place to live in 1983
Mustaine: Fortunately, Ellefson has how the bass should go—the tone, through ’84 and into ’85, when we were putting
great swing to his playing. And he and the parts, the style, the picking and together Killing Is My Business and Peace Sells. It
I have a really amazing relationship notation. Out of 15 Megadeth studio was always rhythm guitar and bass—that was the
when it comes down to me albums, I’ve done 12. foundation. So fast-forward 30 years later and here
vociferating a guitar part. He’s always we are sitting in a studio in Nashville and it felt
played with an approach we’ve tried to You mentioned earlier that the very much like me and Dave sitting in someone’s
take, which is that he plays lead bass. making of Dystopia reminded you apartment in 1983—Dave with his B.C. Rich
Ellefson: A lot of it speaks to the fact of the band’s early days. How so? Bich playing through [his] little Peavey amp, and
that me and Dave intuitively know Ellefson: Keep in mind that Dave me with my B.C. Rich Mockingbird bass into my
little Roland Cube bass amp that I brought with
me from Minnesota. That’s how we composed the
first two Megadeth records.

How did the guitars on Dystopia go down, and

what was it like working with Kiko?
Ellefson: Dave would sit and work with Kiko,
playing rhythm guitar, which was very different,
because normally Dave would have his rhythms
down [first]. That is “true north.” So for Dave
to spend time putting rhythms down with Kiko
shows Kiko’s incredible musicianship. His playing
seems effortless. I’m always amazed by his ability
to hear Dave play something, quickly learn it,
and then never forget it. I haven’t seen somebody
do rhythm guitar in Megadeth that well probably
since Kerry King was playing with us in ’84. It was
amazing—and we’re not even talking about his
lead guitar abilities!

Speaking of lead guitar, Dave, what’s your

approach to soloing as a player and as a writer/
Mustaine: When you live, breathe, and feel the
song that you’re writing, the song pretty much tells
you what it needs. I’m not a believer that a solo has
to be shredding with a wang bar, though I think a
lot of people do some really great work with that.
I’m of the belief that a player like David Gilmour
could do more with one note than some of today’s
shredders can do with a dozen. On some of these
solos that are ripping fast, you just hear rrrrrrrrrr.
It’s like, “Man, come on!”
Ellefson: Remember, the rhythm guitars in
Megadeth are as complex as most lead guitar
solos. Not just the notes, but the nuances, the
push and the pull, sliding into notes, sliding
out of notes, the hammer-on/pull-off thing,
and, most importantly, the right hand. That’s
where the signature sound comes from. When
you join Megadeth, like Kiko did, to be able
to really understand the signature sound of the
band—what Dave and I pioneered so many years

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• Ibanez RG652 Prestige
• Takamine Hirade H5
nylon-string acoustic
• various Taylor acoustics

• Marshall JCM 800
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• Laney VH1006
• Fractal Axe-Fx II
• Marshall 1960DM Dave Mustaine 4x12
Signature cabs with G12 Vintage 30s
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• D’Addario NYXL (.010–.052 and
• Ibanez heavy 1.14 mm
• Radial JDX 48 guitar amp direct box
• Whirlwind 4-channel MultiSelector
• Furman PL Plus DMC power conditioner
• Rocktron All Access MIDI controller
• Rocktron MIDI Raider controller
• Shure UXLP4 wireless system

ago—is knowing that it isn’t just the left hand. “Devils Island” [from Peace Sells… but Who’s
It’s really about how you execute the notes, Buying?]. It has this really slow groove before
picking with the right hand. we speed it up—these really chunky, scary
sounding riffs.
The songs on Dystopia sound like vintage
Megadeth. What stands out for you? “The Threat Is Real” starts the album with
Ellefson: “Fatal Illusion” really brings forward a surprising Middle Eastern vocal part
a part of Megadeth that people haven’t heard before the riff takes over. How did that
in many, many years—both musically and come about?
Photo by Chapman Baehler

lyrically. I like “The Threat Is Real” and “Post Mustaine: I had gone to a spiritual event by
American World”—especially how the riff in someone who was mentoring me—a very
it reminds me of when we were working on successful, intelligent guy who’s aware, to a
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in our married lives. While I was there, have to be super complex, where the bass I wasn’t working with Dave, he had a
he said, “I have this really strange feeling creates this really big, supportive sound. chance to run the show on his own, and
you’re going to do some very strong and The bass performs two roles in Megadeth. that’s an entirely different experience. I’ve
necessary healing between the West and One is this really big supportive sound seen him grow more in the last several
the Middle East through music, and I that started back in the 1990s with years than in many of the years before,
was like... “Whaaat?!” Countdown to Extinction, Youthanasia, because it all rested on his shoulders and
Then the opportunity came up for and Cryptic Writings. Then there’s also the he really rose to the occasion. He has
us to do “Poisonous Shadows” [another moment where it comes out and kicks become adept at Pro Tools, and for this
Dystopia track], and I wanted it to have you in the teeth, and I think we’ve got record I feel that Dave really, truly was
a really cool kind of vibe. Farah Siraj, a the best of those in Dystopia. the producer.
vocalist from Jordan who’s the country’s When I went to L.A. [in the early
ambassador of music, initially came out That’s apparent on the first single, 1980s], I was confident in my abilities. I
to sing with this “Kashmir” kind of vibe. “Fatal Illusion.” just needed to find the right channel to
And it was so great. After we heard her Ellefson: I’m glad that is the first bass direct them into. And Dave is probably
performance, we were like, “Let’s get part people got to hear on the record. one of the most confident people I’ve
her to do some kind of ambience at the That’s what people want to hear from ever met in my life [laughs]. He’s been
beginning of ‘The Threat Is Real.’” The Megadeth—these mind-blowing bass that way since the day I met him when
song is super heavy, especially in the breaks that just step out and smack you he was 21. Which is why I became this
breakdown in the middle under the solo. in the face and hurt [laughs]. blank canvas for him that he could
mold and shape around his music. It’s
David, from a bass playing standpoint, Is it different working together now the reason I’ve been able to be here the
what are your favorite moments? verses when you were younger? longest. I was there the day the vision was
Ellefson: I love things that are really Ellefson: My experiences away from being cast. It’s a different place to start
bombastic, like “Poisonous Shadows” and Megadeth have made me a much better from. There are times when I’m able to
“Dystopia”—things that don’t necessarily Megadeth bass player. The years when create things that are right for the song


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and there are other times when I think, “This my head is always focusing on what our goals
is what Dave needs.” And I’m able to get are, which is, you know, really seriously being
behind that. the biggest band in the world. I mean, who
I prefer now to the early days—yet in the early would set out to do anything without the
days of your career, you’re really starting with desire to be the absolute best at it?
a piece of clay that you can do anything with. Dave’s able to be kind of like a shepherd
That’s a really fun part of your career: creating onstage. When I’ve got my back turned and
something that’s never been created before. I’m singing into a microphone, or I’m playing
I’ve always said Dave is the founder of a guitar solo way on the other side of the
thrash metal. It’s almost like he took Diamond stage, he and Kiko have that time where they
Head songs and played them really fast and can really work together. This is genuinely the
brash, almost to the point of out of control. best we’ve ever gotten along, and we’re getting
That’s what created what really is thrash metal. tighter and as cohesive as possible onstage.
And to be part of that mission from the very Standing next to each other and doing the
beginning is such a cool contribution. Kiss guitar moves—I’m sure that will come
Mustaine: I joke around, calling David the at some point. But the most important thing
Photo by Joe Russo

“keeper of the facts.” He’s like the band’s right now is just being able to play together
ambassador because he’s a really well- and let people see how much we enjoy making
mannered, well-meaning kind of guy. Whereas music together.

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 85

Avant-rocker Ava Mendoza talks about discovering new sounds
on her journey from classical and roots music to the outlands.

va Mendoza creates edgy,
challenging music. She plays
guitar and stompboxes and, no,
she doesn’t use pedals to mask inferior
technique or shoddy ideas. Her command
of the instrument is prodigious, her
tonal palette is expansive, she has an
intuitive improvisatory awareness, and
her lunchbox is chockfull of sonic
goodies. Not staid or vanilla, her playing
is a profound testament to the state of
contemporary guitar.
Mendoza has deep roots, too, and
that includes years of classical training,
a rich knowledge of old-school blues
and traditional fingerstyle, a profound
awareness of no-wave punk and sonic
weirdness, and significant exposure to dance, music, and writing.” She studied that New York is easier or conducive to
the free jazz masters. She also has the classical guitar, but her studies were at lugging a lot of equipment. “New York is
ears and chops to assimilate her disparate odds with the rock, punk, no wave, far forcing me to strip down my gear because
influences and execute difficult music. out, and experimental music she was I don’t have a car here,” she says. “Every
Not an easy feat. listening to. She studied folk blues and pedal counts.”
But also not unnoticed. Mendoza is traditional Americana as well, which Mendoza is busy. She is an active
best judged by the company she keeps. was an easy transition for an acoustic player on the New York avant-rock scene.
She has worked with bassist Jamaaladeen fingerstylist. But soon she was abusing Her band Unnatural Ways is working,
Tacuma (Ornette Coleman, James solidbody electrics. “I played in rock touring, and a new album on John Zorn’s
Blood Ulmer), Fred Frith, the Geraldine bands—punk bands that had free sections Tzadik label is due this spring. Half an
Fibbers’ frontwoman Carla Bozulich, and were into improvising,” she says. “I album of solo material is due soon as
genre-crossing experimentalists Tune- think that was part of how I learned to well, bearing the title Ivory Tower. “It is a
Yards, and many others. And her duets play on electric. Plus, I was always still split with Sir Richard Bishop,” she says.
with Wilco’s Nels Cline are astounding. studying Ornette Coleman and Albert “He is on the other half.”
Mendoza grew up in Orange Ayler—trying to figure out how they Premier Guitar spoke with Mendoza
County, California, but spent high constructed their lines.” about her influences, her unusual
school boarding at the Interlochen Arts After high school, Mendoza studied journey from classical guitar to American
Photo by Ricardo Esway

Academy in Michigan. “I escaped when I at Mills College and settled in Oakland, fingerstyle to free electric madness, how
was 15,” she says about leaving Southern and was a fixture on the local music she discovers new modes and sounds, and
California. “Interlochen has academics, scene. But two years ago she took the the different ways she abuses Whammy
but it is really arts focused. It has theater, plunge and moved east to Brooklyn—not pedals and her Line 6 green box.

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 87


• Fender Jaguar with dual humbuckers
(stock Fender at the bridge and a Seymour
Duncan Seth Lover in the neck position)
Her main guitar When did you make the transition [Saxophonist] Peter Brötzmann. I
• Schecter Banshee with Floyd Rose and
is a double- from classical guitar to what you played classical music for so long, all
humbucker Sustainiac pickup/driver
do now? of a sudden I was like, “Oh, there is
Fender Jaguar • Gibson ES-150 with one P-90 in the
with a Seth I had played classical guitar from when this whole expressive crazy world of
neck position
Lover pickup I was a little kid, but by the time I music.” I got really into that.
in the neck was 12 or 13 I was getting more into
position, but rock. A couple of years later I was into Were you also listening to AMPS
she also plays • Fender Twin Reverb
a Schecter punk rock and these no wave bands American primitive and the old-
Banshee and a that I like. I wanted to not play classical school blues guys?
Gibson ES-150. music more and more. I kept exploring I love lots of that music. Robert EFFECTS
interesting weird rock bands. There Johnson and Reverend Gary Davis • Fulltone FB-3 Fat-Boost overdrive
were a couple of bands from Southern and Skip James. I started getting into • Pro Co RAT distortion (1993)
California—like the Red Aunts and the it because I loved it, and because • Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler
Geraldine Fibbers—that I was really I knew how to play fingerstyle. I • Boss DD-7 Digital Delay
into. And from there I made the left didn’t know how to play with a pick. • DigiTech Whammy WH-1
turn to more avant-garde jazz. Almost all of those players played • Behringer UV300 Classic Vibrato
Photo by Peter Gannushkin

fingerstyle. I wanted to play electric

Who were some of the people you and write my own music, but I guess STRINGS & PICKS
were listening to? their approach made sense to me • D’Addario EXL 116 Medium Top/Heavy
Sonny Sharrock. He was a big early because they were playing with Bottom (.011–.052)
one. Albert Ayler. Ornette Coleman. their fingers. • Dunlop .73 mm

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HOME Did you find that the technique transferred fingers—drugstore-bought fake nails that you

GROWN easily from classical to blues?

Yeah, for the most part. I spent a long time
trying to figure out people’s tunings, but once
glue on with nail glue. I put those on because
real nails are too thin. Fake nails are thicker
and sound more like a flatpick. I can get the

I was there, a lot of those techniques are kind same tone with my fingers and the pick.
of the same. Maybe there is more walking bass
stuff—and the feel is different, of course—but Did you have any important teachers or
a lot of the actual technique is similar. mentors that pushed you in a certain direction?
SINCE 1958 I went to Mills College, and Fred Frith was
Did you experiment with thumbpicks or there. I took his improv classes and then later
fingerpicks? I ended up playing with him in his groups.
I’ve never been able to use those. I never worked
on it long enough and they always got caught What did you learn from him?
up in the strings. When I was in my early 20s, Well, it wasn’t guitar stuff—he doesn’t want
I started playing with a flatpick and practiced to teach guitar lessons—but he would talk
using that with hybrid picking. Now, usually I about improvisation a lot. And then learning
use a flatpick with my middle and ring fingers. his music. He has a record called Gravity from
1980—a kind of prog album—and I played in
You go back and forth between his re-creation of that. It was a good “learning
fingerpicking and hybrid picking? hard music” exercise for me, absorbing and
Yes. When I play with bands, for the most arranging that music.
part it is hybrid, but when I play solo I
fingerpick more. The one weird thing that Having digested so many disparate styles, C

I still do, a holdover from classical guitar, do you see them as distinct entities or are M

is put fake nails on my middle and ring they related in some way for you?


Exploring the Thesaurus of Scales MY

and Melodic Patterns



FOR 6, 7, 8 AND 12 Ava Mendoza uses Nicolas Slonimsky’s book, Thesaurus of Scales and K

STRING INSTRUMENTS Melodic Patterns, as a source for new modes and compositional ideas.
Slonimsky was a 20th-century classical composer. Born in Russia,
he fled to the West following the Bolshevik Revolution and spent
most of his life in the United States. In addition to composing, Slonimsky was a
prolific writer and essayist, and a champion of contemporary music. He had close
associations with Edgard Varèse, Charles Ives, and Frank Zappa.
Although largely ignored when published in 1947, Thesaurus of Scales and
Melodic Patterns became popular when word got out that John Coltrane used it to
generate ideas. Many other musicians, including Jaco Pastorius and Zappa, were
known to study from it as well.
At its heart, Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns is a collection of
manufactured scales that work around symmetrical patterns of equal intervallic
distances, interpolations, pentatonics, 12-tone rows, and other systems. For
example, a Slonimsky scale might be based on skips of alternating half-steps
and tritones, dividing an octave into four equal parts. The patterns break from
traditional harmonic structures and provide fodder for exploration in a post-
harmonic, atonal environment. How dissonant or atonal one of Slonimsky’s
WORLD FAMOUS MUSIC STRINGS manufactured modes might sound depends on context and how you apply it.
WWW.ROTOSOUND.COM Slonimsky’s scales and patterns are advanced musical theory and provide a
FACEBOOK.COM/ROTOSOUND break from the doldrums of tonality. Proceed with caution: If you’re happy in a
TWITTER.COM/ROTOSOUND_UK diatonic world, Slonimsky’s offerings might not be for you. To learn more about
Slonimsky, search for “Nicolas Slonimsky on Frank Zappa” on YouTube.

pg_rotos_third.indd 1 14/12/2015 19:23

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provides a
versatile array of
tones and pivots
on two devices:
a DigiTech
Whammy WH-
1, which she
uses to create
intervals, and a
Line 6 DL4 delay
that also serves
as her looper.

I definitely view them as distinct styles,

but the way that I’ve used them in my
own playing is more taking from their “New York is forcing me to strip
techniques. I’ve been influenced by many
types of music, but I am not thinking, down my gear because I don’t have
a car here. Every pedal counts.”
“Here I am playing in this traditional
context. Here I am playing in this sonic
rock context.” I’m just trying to play
music in whatever situation I’m in.
the radio—a little less slick sounding. All people that I really like. But I think, just
Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman are those fulfilled that and weren’t as sculpted coming from rock music, there is a lot
both great examples of that as well. as a lot of the modern music I heard. of improvising that doesn’t make it into
Their playing is so out there and yet modern blues and soul-rock music, but in
rooted in folk music and melodies. Many people associate free playing the tradition there sure is.
Yes, definitely for them. I think punk rock exclusively with jazz, but classical
and no-wave stuff from the ’70s and ’80s music has a strong experimental Who are some examples?
Photo by Peter Gannushkin

is that way, also. I don’t really see them as tradition as well. Do you draw Coming from blues and R&B music,
working against each other. The reason I inspiration from that, too? there was always tons of improvising—
got into all of those musics is that I wanted There are a lot of modern classical Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Jimi
to hear stuff that was a little bit more raw compositions that I love—Karlheinz Hendrix—they are all people who were
and direct than things you could find on Stockhausen and Conlon Nancarrow are like that. Getting more into punk rock,

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the Minutemen were into doing long
jammed out things at their shows. As YOUTUBE IT
Ava Mendoza’s masterful hybrid picking technique and control of
were the Contortions with James Chance.
effects are in conflagrant display in this performance with her rock
band Unnatural Ways, featuring bassist Tim Dahl and drummer Sam
In your solos—to my ears at least— Ospovat. At about 4:27—perhaps inspired by Nicolas Slonimsky’s
you seem to maintain a strong sense Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns—she tears into some exotic
runs and wraps up with reversed washes of sound.
of tonality even when the music isn’t YouTube search term: Unnatural Ways live @ Alphaville 9-20-15
tonal. What is your harmonic and
melodic approach? What modes do you use? of my own. It’s not really rooted in
A lot of times I’ll pick a mode—some weird I’ve been working a lot out of the Nicolas traditional theory, rather I’m trying to
mode that I think sounds interesting—and Slonimsky book, Thesaurus of Scales and come up with something I want to play
I’ll use that. I might use that for the whole Melodic Patterns, which is a modes book. in front of human beings. However,
solo or midway through I’ll switch modes. Many people have used it—Coltrane because I have long improvised sections
Usually I start from something that is used it a lot. They are not traditional in the stuff that I do, I work on
modal and then maybe I go atonal or get Western modes and I try to work them technique, stamina, and picking chops—
into tonal sounding stuff as it goes along, into solos and songs that I’m writing. tremolo picking chops—and different
but I’m usually starting from a mode. When I say modes, I don’t mean the hybrid picking techniques.
traditional Dorian, Phrygian, Ionian, and
Do you mean that you sound out so on, necessarily, but stuff out of that Anything specific?
because of context? If you were to take book. Or I just make them up. I work on different picking patterns
away the rest of the band would your with the flatpick and middle and ring
solo sound more conservative? Do you work on chord theory and fingers to make sure those are all playing
No, I don’t mean that, actually. I try harmony? evenly together. That is the hardest part
to pick a mode that has an interesting Not really. When I have time to work of hybrid picking for me—to get an
outside flavor with what’s going on. on music I just try to write something even tone.


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How do you approach free improvisation? It’s definitely still eccentric rock. I listen set it midway so it is at a random interval.
Do you work with predetermined to a lot of metal and a lot of music I play, hit it on and off, and get these big
structures or look for signposts along the that has a more open approach to interval leaps in what I am playing. I can
way? How do you avoid making a mess? songwriting. It’s not verse/chorus/verse— get big, wider range interval leaps than I
Well, sometimes I do [laughs]. it’s more proggy. The songs are more can with my hands. They sound like an
written out and there are fewer sections ’80s synthesizer or something.
And sometimes that’s a good thing! where it is free improv.
I listen and react. It is so different based Does it make cool, glitchy noises, too?
on who I’m playing with. I try to use Pedals often dictate the way you play. Yes—especially the original Whammy
everything I know about music and Do you start with a sound in your head pedal that’s in a little smaller case than
everything I’ve trained my ears to hear. and try to duplicate it with a pedal, or the recent ones. That model has this
I try to react either melodically or with is it the opposite? warble to it, almost an organ sound. You
sounds to whatever is going on around me. I buy them because I’m thinking, “I want get one note that sounds like normal
to get this sound.” But when I start using guitar and then you get one note that has
So both the songs and the other them—depending on what they are—I this “whoo whoo whoo” vibrato sound.
musicians inspire or dictate how you have to wait for them to start talking to
are going to play? me. I try to dial in the sound I thought You have a looper pedal, too. Do you
Yes. Definitely. But I don’t think about it I could get, but then it turns out to do use loops in a band setting or only
like, “Oh, I better play this way because I something really different. With the when playing solo?
am playing with such and such a person.” Whammy pedal, for instance, most people I use loops in almost every setting. With
use it for octave stuff or harmonizing a a band, I mostly use it in a solo, where
How about your band, Unnatural line, but I started to use it to get these big the loop will be part of the solo. I get an
Ways? You call it a rock band, but your interval leaps. I use it in ways to get sounds asymmetrical loop going, play over it,
songs are not the traditional verse/ that aren’t really what it was meant for. For and harmonize with myself. Usually it
chorus type of song structure. example, I have it in the octave setting and is at the end of a solo where things are

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getting epic and I am wrapping it up. But I
use it to add another layer of harmony—to

BOARDS play these kind of out-of-time harmony

lines with myself. I’ll pitch it up an octave
and stuff like that. For a while, when I’d
play solo I did use it for looping a bass line.
Small Fits But I don’t really hear that now. I much
4-5 Pedals prefer to play with a bass player.

Large Fits And you use the Line 6 DL4?

6-8 Pedals
Yeah. It does reverse and it does the pitch
up an octave and the pitch down an octave.
AVA I L A B L E I N 4 C O L O R S I’ve gotten really adapted to it—it’s part of
the instrument for me.

What else do you do with pedals?

One thing pedal-wise is that I’ve always
Stealth Black Screamer Green British Orange Overdrive Yellow played with a volume pedal, but I’m actually
trying to get away from that. I’ve found that
Carry Bag if I can move around more, I can adjust my
Included! mix onstage. For example, if I’m playing in
a rock club, I can adjust my mix because
I move around to where it sounds good
to me. I also think I play better when I’m
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not working a volume pedal and always
wondering “is this part too quiet or too
loud?” I just forget about that and deal with
it in my actual playing.

You teach guitar lessons as well. How

does that inform or help your playing?
Teaching has helped me realize what I
think is a healthy balance for kids who are
learning music. That includes jamming,
playing with people, understanding their
own style, learning to read music, and
learning some theory at the same time.
A lot of times music education is slanted
one way or the other—usually it is more
reading things off a page or learning other
people’s styles, but not a lot of developing
your own. Seeing kids flourish has made
me think about the balance that is healthy
for everybody musically.

Do you have an opinion of what you

think is a healthy balance?
It’s hard to express it in proportions. The
way I grew up, playing classical music, I
didn’t think about what sounded like me
until pretty late in the game. I think a lot
of people who come from classical music
are that way. Ideally, I guess it would be
more of an even split.

Tortoise’s guitarist Jeff Parker and bassist Doug McCombs
talk about the 25-year evolution of the daring rock ensemble,
blending genres, trading instruments, and coming out of their
all-instrumental shell with the new album, The Catastrophist.

or the last 25 years, the Chicago Tortoise formed in 1990 when bassist harmony then became more noticeable
band Tortoise has made primarily Doug McCombs (formerly of Eleventh aspects of their music.
instrumental music that, despite Dream Day) and percussionist and In 2010, the City of Chicago
often being labeled as post-rock, in actual- keyboardist John Herndon (formerly commissioned Tortoise to write a suite
ity defies facile categorization. Tortoise’s of Poster Children) joined forces as of compositions in celebration of the
commitment to experimentation is evident a production team and a rhythm robust local community of jazz and
in its seven-album body of work, in which section for hire. That plan never really improvisational musicians. The barebones
you’re just as likely to hear a symphonic materialized, but McCombs and themes Tortoise contributed to the
percussion instrument as an electric guitar Herndon teamed up with drummer John project eventually morphed into the
or an electronic blast of sound. Rock, 20th McEntire and bassist Bundy K. Brown densely orchestrated compositions on The
century classical, and jazz, among many (both formerly of Bastro), along with Catastrophist (Thrill Jockey), Tortoise’s
other influences, are given equal consider- percussionist Dan Bitney, to form the first new release in seven years.
ation in Tortoise’s musical works. earliest incarnation of Tortoise. On the album, Tortoise expands on its
In subverting the conventional The quintet’s self-titled debut (1993) original concept while visiting unexpected
structures and vocabulary of rock, featured the unconventional configuration territory, like a cover of “Rock On,” by
Tortoise has given permission to bands of two bass guitarists and three percussionists the English singer-songwriter David
like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, playing not just standard drum kits, but Essex, and the original song “Yonder
Mogwai, and Sigur Rós to do the same. marimbas and vibraphones. By Tortoise’s Blue,” kind of an R&B ballad with Yo La
Photo by Andrew Paynter

To put it another way, Tortoise’s influence third album, TNT (1998), the group had Tengo’s Georgia Hubley. We chatted with
has encouraged more than a few bands to enlisted Jeff Parker, a jazz guitarist known for Jeff Parker and Doug McCombs about
find their own experimental directions— his association with the AACM (Association the concepts at play on The Catastrophist,
not just indie-rock groups, but more for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). their idiosyncratic styles—and, of course,
mainstream acts, like Deftones, as well. Naturally, improvisation and extended the tools of their trade.

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 101

Tortoise isn’t really the
Jeff, in addition to playing in Tortoise, kind of band that plays a
you’re a prominent voice in modern melody and then someone
jazz. Do you consider yourself a jazz solos for 20 minutes.”
guitarist or a rock guitarist?
Jeff Parker: I consider myself a jazz
guitarist, for sure. Jazz is where I learned
FACTOID the sounds that I hear, and this informs
Tortoise’s new my approach to music in any situation. I
album, The • 1950 Gibson ES-150
still make a lot of my professional life as a
Catastrophist, • 1983 Gibson ES-335
was inspired by a sideman and leader in jazz music. I went DOUG McCOMBS’S GEAR
commission from to Berklee in the late ’80s with a lot of
the City of Chicago
great jazz musicians. I was classmates with AMPS
to create a new
Roy Hargrove, Antonio Hart, Seamus • Music Man 75 combo
piece of music that BASSES
demonstrated the Blake, Mark Turner, Joshua Redman, and • ZT Lunchbox
quintet’s ties to • 1968 Fender Telecaster Bass
the Windy City’s Chris Speed, and I still play with a lot of • 1963 Fender Bass VI
vibrant jazz these musicians. Before I joined Tortoise, EFFECTS • Early 1960s Kay K5915
and improvised
music scene.
I made my living playing in jazz organ • Boss FRV-1 ’63 Fender Reverb
groups in Chicago—some with Larry • Boss RV-3 Digital Reverb/Delay
Goldings and Chris Foreman—doing a • Crowther Hotcake Distortion
• 1963 Fender Jazzmaster with
lot of pickup gigs. • DOD FX-17 Wah/Volume
Mastery bridge
• Electro-Harmonix Freeze Sound Retainer
• Baritone parts guitar with
How did you become involved • Electro-Harmonix Small Stone
Lollar T Series pickups
with Tortoise? Phase Shifter
Parker: When I first heard Tortoise, I • Maxon GE601 Graphic Equalizer 
immediately became a fan. They were AMPS
• Moog MF-102 Ring Modulator
essentially just bass and drums: two • Ampeg Portaflex B-18
• ZVEX Fuzz Factory
drum sets and two bass guitars. This • Ashdown ABM-1000 head
appealed to me because I’ve always had • Ashdown 610 cab with
a bottom-heavy approach to playing the Blue Line speakers
• D’Addario EJ22
guitar. When I first started playing music • Fender ’65 Twin Reverb reissue
(.013–.056 with wound G)
I actually wanted to be a bass player. I • Fender ’63 Vibroverb reissue
• Fender Extra Heavy picks
picked up my sister’s guitar and played • Gallien-Krueger 800RB head
bass lines from Parliament-Funkadelic. • Victoria Victorilux
Anyway, the guys in Tortoise and I
became friends and they started asking especially within the context of so-called EFFECTS
me to sit in. They already had a strong rock music. It’s often very sonic or • Ernie Ball 250K Volume Pedal
aesthetic thing with the bass and drums, ambient, or just using the guitar to play • Fulltone Full-Drive2 Mosfet
and I didn’t really want to disrupt that. single-note melodic or repetitive things • Last Temptation of Boost
I think the reason they liked playing along with the rhythm section. • Moog Moogerfooger MF-104M and
with me was because I had this guitar MF-104Z analog delays
style that really fit well with the band. How do you reconcile the music of • Vintage Pro Co RAT
Those guys came up playing in punk Tortoise with your jazz background? • ZVEX Woolly Mammoth
bands before they started Tortoise to do Parker: One of my favorite guitarists
something different. At first I blended has always been Jim Hall. Even though STRINGS & PICKS
in, but it’s become less like that over the he had a very specific sound and the • D’Addario EJ21
years. Now the guitar’s more out front— context of what he was doing wasn’t (.012–.052, with wound G for Jazzmaster)
but it’s not as if I’m playing like Jeff Beck. very broad—usually within a pretty • D’Addario EXL157
traditional jazz ensemble—he always
(.014–.068, for baritone)
How does your style fit into the band? sounded very open and colorful because
• Fender 250B6 (.024–.084, for Bass VI)
Parker: It’s more conceptual than of his approach to the instrument. The
• Ken Smith Rock Masters
anything. There are definitely certain goal for me is to have a similar approach
(.045–.105, for Telecaster Bass)
clichés associated with the guitar, to playing jazz as I do when I play with
• Dunlop Standard Tortex picks (.60 mm)
and I avoid them. My approach isn’t Tortoise. But with Tortoise, the sonic
about playing loud or screaming leads, landscape is broader than it is in a lot of

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the jazz I play. It’s music that demands I requires you play with a tight sound. in bands, and then, once I picked up a
play with more color, using more effects The action of the instrument has to be Fender Bass VI, it was sort of a gateway
and experimenting with different timbres, pretty high, ideally with heavy strings. It into guitar playing. I’ve been working
with EQs and percussive elements— requires a lot of resistance, and a setup really hard on the guitar for the last
there’s kind of an African guitar vibe in a like this adds presence to percussive 10 years, and I’m pretty much sitting
lot of the music I play with Tortoise. sounds. Also, he was a big influence on around and playing guitar if I’m at
me in terms of extended techniques: home. But after a long period of playing
Talk a little about the jazz you play. scraping the strings, using feedback guitar, it’s really a relief to go back to the
Parker: I play a lot of different stuff, intentionally. He was a real pioneer in bass. I love its simplicity—I love locking
from straight-ahead and standards finding a different way to deal with the in with an ensemble.
to free improv, where it’s completely instrument, pretty much as revolutionary
about playing the instrument in an as Jimi Hendrix, in my opinion. If you How’d you get into playing the Bass VI?
unconventional way. [English free- study improvised music on the guitar, McCombs: The first time I saw one was
improvisation guitar pioneer] Derek there’s no way around it. He’s like Charlie in a guitar store around ’87. I was amazed
Bailey is another one of my big Parker in that regard. when I picked up this instrument that I’d
inspirations; my musical world’s pretty never seen before, and when I plugged
wide open. Doug, you play both bass and guitar it in I heard a lot of weird potential in
in Tortoise, and guitar exclusively in it. At the time I was getting into a lot
How has Bailey’s work informed your your side project Brokeback. Do you of different twang-y sounds: surf music,
style—particularly in the context of think of yourself as more of a bassist Ennio Morricone soundtracks, and other
Tortoise? or guitarist? guitar-centric music. I’d already been
Parker: The way he dealt with Doug McCombs: I pretty much think of exploring a more melodic side of the bass,
harmonics—not like the Tal Farlow–style myself equally as a bassist and guitarist. and then I discovered this instrument
harp harmonics, but finding extended, It didn’t used to be that way. I played that would allow me to get even more
chiming notes all about the neck. That only bass for the first 20 years that I was into that. I couldn’t afford to buy one for

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a long time, and I spent the whole time we’ve done before. We always tell each McCombs: The person I knew would
thinking about what I could do if I ever other that it won’t take as long until we really add some great stuff to what we were
got ahold of one. make the next record, but it gets longer doing is the piano player Jim Baker, who’s
and longer between records. And it’s just also a sort of wizard with the ARP 2600
What’s it like to work with Jeff? How the nature of our band—we’re all sort [analog synthesizer]. He was one of the
has he influenced your playing? of compulsively meticulous about little original five guest musicians we performed
McCombs: It’s great. I’ve learned a lot details, and it takes time to work that out. the music with in Chicago. Later, we did it
from him—a depth of knowledge about in Minneapolis with local guest musicians,
harmonic stuff. He’s really like a closet Talk about the album’s roots. and in Paris, we brought some of the
bass player. He has such a dark sound on Parker: We got commissioned to write American musicians and also invited some
guitar anyway, so it’s cool that he can play a new piece of music that demonstrated French guests. When we decided to sit
the bass sometimes and I can play guitar. Tortoise’s ties to Chicago’s vibrant jazz down and work on a new record, we used
It’s great to be in a band where everyone and improvised music scene. There are these materials to jumpstart it. Sometimes
can be open enough to let each other play five people in Tortoise and each one of us it takes a while for our wheels to get going
the instruments they’re good at. picked one person in the community we when working on new material, and it
wanted to collaborate with and feature, was handy to already have these partially
The Catastrophist is the band’s first new and we composed a handful of pieces so composed ideas.
album in seven years. What took so long? that each performer could be featured on
Parker: Our band is called Tortoise, so one. We made a suite of music out of the So what was the music heard on The
things tend to happen very slowly… whole thing, and that’s pretty much how Catastrophist originally like and how
McCombs: A variety of things. One it came about. did it evolve?
is that we’ve been together for so long McCombs: The main thing is since we
that we try to be conscious about not Who did you pick? were doing this project with improvisers, we
falling into easy traps and to try to push Parker: I picked a tenor sax player named had five pieces of music that were essentially
ourselves away from different things Edward Wilkerson Jr. little more than skeletal jazz compositions,

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Before beginning

a tour, “we send & 4 ˙ J J
emails back and etc.
forth about what This adaptation from the

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7 7 8 8 8 8
parts each person 7 9 9 9 7

should focus on song “Tesseract” shows the 9


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in a rehearsal Notice how the palm-muted
room, ironing etc.
lower guitar part, which P.M.
out,” explains wouldn’t be out of place in a
7 7 7 7 7 7
Doug McCombs. James Brown song, interlocks
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opposite of line. Meanwhile, the melody, #4

how most rock
bands work.” played on the higher guitar in

contrastingly long rhythms, 9 9 10 7 7 9 9 10 77 9 9 10 7 7 9 9 10 9 910

9 9
9 9 10
9 9
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floats above this bed.
7 7
Above right:
Jeff Parker works
to avoid rock Click here to hear audio of this notation at premierguitar.com/feb2016
guitar clichés:
“My approach
isn’t about like heads or melodies with room for the We’ve come to realize that when everyone the medium of hard-disk recording. Our
playing loud improvisers to solo over. When we were contributes, it’s the most interesting. process very much relies on how easily
or screaming
leads. It’s often
retooling these pieces for our purposes, we McCombs: Most of the time a song starts you can edit and move audio around, to
very sonic or wanted them to be more like Tortoise songs as just a little idea, a chunk of melody add or remove things. It’s a big part of
ambient, or just and developed new parts, like bridges and or some sort of unusual chord sequence, our compositional process, and it can be
using the guitar such, to add structure and to make things and sometimes just a rhythm. We’re such compared to making a patchwork quilt.
to play single- more interesting. Tortoise isn’t really the a rhythm-oriented band and sometimes
note melodic or
repetitive things kind of band that plays a melody and then someone has an idea for an interesting Talk a little more about the squares in
along with the someone solos for 20 minutes. That’s fine— pattern we haven’t tried before. So, 80 your quilts, if you will, on a technical level.
rhythm section.” and, in fact, fun for a special project—but percent of the time we’re working on Parker: In the recording process, a lot of
not at all what we’d go for on an album. something that isn’t structured at all, songs change meter. Something that started
throwing ideas around and trying to pull in 3/4 might end up in 5. Somebody
With music that’s so texturally them into some kind of form. We do it might’ve brought a demo of something
involved, you must have a not by playing together in a room, but by completely different, and we’ll kind of
nonconventional compositional and recording bits and pieces and seeing what throw it on a part of another tune and let it
recording process. How does it work? happens through editing. Sometimes we become something else. Again, it’s all about
Parker: One person introduces an idea or might go back and learn [the resulting taking small ideas and expanding on them,
ideas to the group that everybody expands music] with the band and sometimes not, and that’s pretty much what we did with Photos by Tim Bugbee/Tinnitus Photography
on. It could be anything from a sampled whatever works. all the source material from the original
drum pattern or just a riff or a chord Chicago suite. Also, this recording process
progression, and everybody adds their thing So recording technology plays a big is especially useful these days, since two of
to it. Sometimes someone will come in with role in your compositional process. us are now in California.
a complete intricate composition and we Parker: Yes. I recently did a podcast and was
learn it. When you introduce something to asked how technology has affected the way You both play guitar and bass. How
the band you have to be open to the idea our music has progressed. It totally has. This do you decide who’ll play which
that it’s going to change as people add to it. current version of Tortoise exists because of instrument on a given piece?

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McCombs: It depends on which times were I’ve played all the bass and McCombs: The first one happened because John
tune most needs that person’s feel. If guitar on the recording and then Jeff McEntire and I were simultaneously fascinated by that
the song calls for my particular style, has to do one or the other live and song, “Rock On,” by David Essex and we thought
then I’ll play it. If not, I might play vice versa. It’s kind of just mix and it’d be awesome if Tortoise were to do a version and
guitar and have Jeff play the bass. It all match—whatever would be the best see what happens. We weren’t thinking about putting
depends on which personal aspects we and most practical thing for the band. in on The Catastrophist—maybe a special online
want to be more prominent on a given release or EP—and in the end the consensus was
song. In general, as far as guitar goes, Tortoise tends to avoid vocals, that everyone wanted it to go on the album. A friend
Jeff and I have pretty different goals but The Catastrophist has two of ours, Todd [Rittmann, of noise-rock band U.S.
for tone and the role that instrument tracks with singing. How did this Maple], did a great job with the vocals.
plays in the music. There’s plenty of come about? The other song, “Yonder Blue,” started out like
a normal Tortoise song and when we were putting
it together it just seemed like a dusty old soul jam
to us— something that really should have some
singing on it. We’ve been friends with Georgia

from Yo La Tengo for, like, 30 years, and we called
her and said, “Hey Georgia, can you sing on this?”
We didn’t give her lyrics or any sort of restrictions,
so what you hear on the record is what she came
up with. We all really loved it, and though people
have been trying to get us to put singers on our
records for years, we didn’t set out to do that. It’s
just a coincidence that the record has two songs
with vocals.

How do you prepare to tour in support of an

album like The Catastrophist, recorded in so
many bits and pieces?
Parker: We have to do some homework because of
all the layering involved in our process. We have
to kind of whittle down the tunes to their bare
essence. Some of the stuff is tricky—logistically
and otherwise. With John’s crazy synth collection,
he can’t take that stuff on tour. So we spend a bit
of time at home making samples so we can load
them onto our software for triggering live.
I do play mostly guitar in the band, so I’ll pretty
much just figure out my own parts, but I also learn
some of Doug’s parts—he’s a great bass player and
a great guitar player. This can be tricky, because
you’ve got to consider the various pedals we use
and the fact that the guitar and bass sounds get
transformed in the mix through various reverbs,
delays, and tremolos.
McCombs: The first step is to decide who will
play what instrument on what song. We’ve got
three drummers who also play keys and mallets
and various other sundries. Jeff and I, of course,
split our time between bass and guitar, and Dan
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premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 111


Taking a Holistic View of Setup


There are plenty
of factors at work t first blush, the idea of a guitar’s makers found they could change the
in the setup of feel might seem veiled in a cloud weight of a string by winding another
your guitar, and of mystery when you consider piece of wire around a center core. The
understanding the complex alchemy of parameters over-winding changes the weight of a
how each
that influence the way a guitar responds string but doesn’t change the strength very
contributes to
the feel of an physically to our touch. Deconstructed much, giving a string maker independent
instrument will into simpler pieces, the feel of a guitar control of these two aspects. This is why
likely serve your is determined by the strings, the guitar different brands and types of strings can
playing well. they are stretched over, and the relation- sound and feel so different, even if their
ship between the two. Most guitarists finished sizes are identical. Say I take
will refer to this last factor as the guitar’s a bronze-wound .053 string from two
setup. But what exactly does this mean? different makers and compare them, the strings are allowed to make. In other
Most players will say string height or where one has a small-core wire and a words, the string height determines how
action, yet inherently know it also means proportionally large-wrap wire, and the loudly a guitar can be played. This is
how the nuances of the guitar and string other has a large-core wire and a small different than an uneven, buzz-inducing
relationship feel when they play. For this wrap. Even though both strings are .053s, fret. The strings are actually slapping
month’s column, I’m going to talk about the first string will have less tension and against the frets on their first vibration
some of the ingredients I look at when a different feel when compared to the after being struck, and then starting a
considering a guitar’s setup. second string with the larger core wire. motion determined by the clearance they
Scale length. This is the theoretical Action or string height. I like to have over the frets.
vibrating length of the open, unfretted think of the action as the distance The flexibility of the guitar. A
notes, and one of the origins of any between the bottom of the string and guitar’s neck is like one leg of a tuning
guitar’s design. The basic law in effect the top of the fret, where the string fork. It moves and vibrates. It also flexes
is that the longer the scale length, the makes contact. This distance is how far in response to tension. Every time a
tighter any given string will need to be to we need to press the string to fret our string is hit, there is a small change in
achieve a certain pitch. This tension is a notes cleanly. Less obvious is what we the overall tension on the neck and,
driving factor in establishing how other actually feel. The distance between the to a minute degree, the neck bends in
aspects of a guitar respond. More tension top of the string and the wood of the response. An acoustic-flattop guitar has
is more resistant to finger pressure, and, fretboard is what our fingertips sense. A an even more pronounced effect, as the
in turn, tends to produce a bolder, more guitar could have big, jumbo frets with top of the guitar flexes in response to
robust note than less tension. Obviously, very low string height yet still feel like every plucked note.
the scale isn’t adjustable after a guitar has the strings are a mile from the fretboard. This isn’t a complete study of all the
been built, but it defines many of the This tends to give a player’s fretting factors at work in your favorite guitar’s
following parameters. hand a lot of room for expression. A setup. It’s a quick glance behind the
String size. In a vibrating string, there player can create interesting vibrato curtain at a few of the important points to
are two basic wave motions that occur effects by merely changing their finger consider. With this info, you’ll hopefully
at the same time. One wave moves back pressure on the fretted note. Tall frets better understand why your favorite guitar
and forth from the nut to the saddle. The make string bending super easy, since a feels so right. For those guitars that just
other moves side to side, or in a circular player can get sideways on the string for seem off, perhaps this information can
motion. The trick is to prevent these two direct leverage. The drawback is players shed some light on what needs to change
waves from interfering with each other. needs to have very good control of their to make them feel their best.
In other words, they need to be in tune finger pressure in order to keep pitches
with each other to work well. This is done intonated accurately. ANDY POWERS is the Master
by manipulating the factors that control I often hear players say they want Guitar Designer at Taylor Guitars.
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string tension: how long the string is (the action as low as possible without fret blends a finely honed sense
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note it is tuned to), how strong the string is the relationship between string height upon the rich heritage of previous
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The very core of the string is where strings are very close to the frets, the frets into inspiring new sonic territory. 
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Acoustic Aerialists
Mark Goldenberg and Eric Skye blend high-flying fingerstyle
virtuosity with lush tones, artful compositions, low-key comedy,
Photo by Guy Brooksbank

and a cool-headed conversational approach.


premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 115

Since they first ne evening last August, I drove through the glittering streets of Los Angeles to It sounds like you’ve been playing
played together check out the acoustic guitar duo of Mark Goldenberg and Eric Skye at Genghis together for years. When and how did
onstage in
2008 at a Cohen, a Szechuan restaurant and live-music venue in West Hollywood. I found you meet?
guitar festival, the pair ensconced in the restaurant’s cozy music room, presenting their quietly thrilling Skye: We met at the Healdsburg Guitar
Goldenberg and brand of jazz-oriented fingerstyle guitar to a rapt and intimate audience. Festival [in Santa Rosa, California] in
Skye’s ability The guitarists were celebrating the release of their debut album, Artifact. Their 2008, when we were put on the same
to support and
playing corresponded neatly to their appearance. Goldenberg, 63, looking like a cool bill. We played a tune together, kind of
one another professor with his spectacles and Chuck Taylor All Stars, exhibited compositionally impromptu, and it just felt great. A few
has been nearly minded restraint while drawing from a vast palette of harmonic colors. Fourteen months later I had a couple of gigs in
telepathic. years Goldenberg’s junior, Skye—whose brawny physique is emphasized by a sleeve Arizona and called up Mark and said,
of tattoos—worked in a comparatively more athletic mode. They played together “Hey, wanna come and meet me and do
telepathically, calling to mind the great duo records guitarist Jim Hall and pianist Bill these gigs together?” And we just hit it
Evans made in the 1960s. off, musically and otherwise.
Meanwhile, a sketchy-looking dude in a sleeveless t-shirt was making his presence
increasingly known as he kept walking into and out of the room, presumably getting Are there any challenges in having a
refills on the gin and tonic that never left his hand, and getting louder with each long-distance duo?
re-entrance. The dude began encroaching on the music with a series of incoherent Goldenberg: I don’t really see us having
vocalizations, and each time Goldenberg responded unflappably with some well-timed any challenges. If we lived in the same
one-liners. He later told me, “I attract hecklers. I think it’s the aftershave.” town we’d probably play together a lot
It’s Goldenberg’s adaptability and good humor that have made him a top-shelf more and we’d have band meetings and
sideman. He’s played both electric and acoustic guitar for many greats, including arguments [laughs]. Long distance works
Jackson Brown, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, and even William Shatner. He’s a skilled out pretty well. We play together enough
songwriter as well. His work has been recorded by Ronstadt, Chicago, and Olivia that we have a really great time and we’re
Newton-John. And he’s a brilliant solo guitarist, as heard on his self-titled 2005 album. constantly surprising each other with the
Skye, equally adroit in any situation, has long been a fixture in the fingerstyle stuff that we’ve been playing on our own.
world. His solo output, like A Different Kind of Blue—a reimagining of Miles Davis’ It doesn’t get stale this way.
1959 game-changing Kind of Blue—is a revelation, and his trio work, as heard on Slow Skye: I agree. The biggest part of what
Moving Dog, reveals Skye to be a generous bandleader and a deep listener. we do involves two friends who haven’t
A couple of months after their gig, I spoke via conference call to the duo: seen each other in a while, having a
Photo by Dan Gabel

Goldenberg at home in Los Angeles and Skye in Portland, Oregon. As we talked about conversation. We don’t practice. If we
their methodologies—and, of course, their gear—the easy camaraderie so evident in have a gig together, we go into separate
their playing was reflected in their witty banter. rooms, just to warm up. We don’t want

to work anything out, so that what one’s out there singing or looking year-and-a-half. Most of the time we go out to
we do is really spontaneous. Maybe good in spandex. lunch and catch up personally and leave most of
if we lived in the same town we’d the music stuff for the stage. But there are times
start working things out, but I’m How often do you get to play when one of us has made up a new tune or thought
not that kind of player. I don’t want together, and what happens when of a cover, and we’ve talked about the names of the
to sit and worry about planning you meet up? chords or whatever, to make sure they mean the
endings and who goes first. Like a Skye: Maybe three or four times same thing to each other. We might occasionally
good conversation, I’d rather just a year. There are big chunks of run through new things at sound check, but it’s
listen to what Mark’s been up to time when we don’t play together, best not to leave the fight in the gym.
and respond. It’s the back and forth like when Mark went out on

that’s basically what our act is. No the road with Hugh Laurie for a What sorts of things, musical or otherwise, do
you talk about at lunch?
Goldenberg: What’s on the menu, string gauges,
politics, whether or not we should have dessert…

In your duo, do you split the compositional

duties equally?
Goldenberg: Basically, we do. For the album we
did eight songs and each brought four, some that
The best performers will settle for no less.
we had played in the past and a couple new things,
too. Many of the songs were ones we each do in
our solo repertoire, so we modified them. Actually,
we didn’t even really modify them, but played them
as duets and they kind of modified themselves.

Mark, can you talk more about how a

Jef k”
composition has modified itself?
Goldenberg: I wrote this simple tune called “The

Soft Shell,” originally for a trio that I was recording

k u
for a music library. It worked out pretty good as

“S ter
a trio tune, and one day I just decided to do it as

a solo because it was easy to improvise on—not
extremely challenging in terms of the harmony
or the melody. Then, I faxed a lead sheet of it to
Eric, and that’s basically as far as we go in terms of
working out tunes. That’s not to say that we don’t
have set structures. When we get together and play,
it usually works out that the composer of the tune
plays the melody. But after that, all bets are off.
Skye: After that, it’s just about listening carefully
or looking for raised eyebrows, that kind of thing.
Goldenberg: Sweating—looking for the other guy
sweating [laughs].

e f f
J k” It sounds like there’s a minimum of preplanning

un xter
and arranging in your duo, and lots of
k nonverbal communication.

“S Ba Goldenberg: What we do is so unconscious. It’s

really like Eric said—a conversation. Sometimes a
conversation, especially at my house, is everyone
talking loudly at the same time. Sometimes the
conversation is one person essentially talking
to himself or herself and another person going,
info@shubb.com • www.shubb.com “Uh-huh, uh-huh.” We do all of that in our duo

Your Strap.
Early on, we
Your Style.
knew that we
played well
together, because
we were both
good listeners.”


• Collings 001Mh • Two Santa Cruz Eric Skye
• Kenny Hill Performance Series classical signature models
Photo by Guy Brooksbank


• D’Addario EJ16 (.012–.053) • Santa Cruz Parabolic Tension Strings
(mid tension)
• aLaska Pik fingerpicks
Levy’s Leathers
• Fred Kelly extra heavy thumbpicks

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 119

Eric Skye together. It’s completely organic in that we
performs live don’t really need to discuss game plans.
and in the studio
Early on, we knew that we played well
with his two
together, because we were both good
signature model
12-fret 00s built listeners. So we’re not always playing all When I’m
by Santa Cruz the time. And when we are both playing, comping, I’m
Guitar Company.
One has an
we are unconsciously taking opposition. never just
It’s kind of a jazz form—we do play a
spruce top and head, and we never play anything the holding down the
cocobolo back same way twice, or, as we like to say, we fort. I’m trying to
and sides, and
the other has
never play anything the same way once think of chords
[laughs]. It’s pretty free form, but we do
a European
spruce top. have some sort of structure, and it’s held that will make
together with string and chewing gum. Mark zig or zag
Skye: I make only a few conscious one way or
decisions in advance. On a few of the
tunes on the record, I used a capo,
the other.”
knowing that Mark wouldn’t—that kind —Eric Skye
of bakes some different voicings into the
cake. But we never think about things
like, “You go high, I’ll go low.” You just
have to trust that you’re going to hear How has it become edited? Skye: I used the same guitar as at the
that stuff and respond to it. Skye: When Mark plays, he’s very eloquent gig, my signature-model 12-fret 00 from
and very melodic, telling great stories with Santa Cruz Guitar Company, which is
What makes for a good listener? his improvisations. He naturally cuts away pretty much all I play. I’ve got one with
Skye: I would compare listening to everything that isn’t related to the tune or an Adirondack spruce top and cocobolo
meditation—at least in the sense that the melody at the moment. There’s not back and sides, and another with a
what I’m trying to remember to do is just a lot of extra stuff in there saying, “Look European spruce top.
notice when shiny objects appear on the at me, I’m a guitar player.” It’s incredibly Goldenberg: I used a Collings 001Mh—
road, but not pick them up. So thoughts complex, but it’s simple at the same an all-mahogany, 00-size steel string—
about what I just played or wish I played, time. And I think that I do play like that just that and a footstool. We left our
or about my back aching in the chair, or sometimes, but other times I get some ego wah-wahs and all our effects racks at
what I need to do when I get back home, in there, and fill in more. But now I’m home [laughs].
I try to set aside and come back to what’s trying to think more maturely.
really happening in the moment. Mark? Mark, as a guitar aficionado how did
Goldenberg: [Feigns inattentiveness.] Mark, what have you learned from Eric? you choose which instrument to play?
Uh—what you were saying. Goldenberg: Eric has such superior Goldenberg: When we’ve played together
technique; he can do so much on the over the last couple of years, I’ve tried a
How have you influenced each other in guitar that I can’t even hope to do. It’s bunch of different guitars, but because
working together as a duo? phenomenal, and I just like to comp and of its mahogany construction, my little
Goldenberg: Well, I’m always trying to take a back seat. I go, “Wow—he just did Collings seems to really complement the
steal his licks [laughs]. all that with one finger. Holy mackerel!” sound of Eric’s guitar. It’s less complex
Skye: Mark’s had a huge influence on But it’s never like I’m watching someone with its overtones, so it has a kind of
me. I really wasn’t writing a lot of music who’s grandstanding. He has the ability purer, simpler—purer, simpler, just like
before playing with him. Most of my to make all this stuff really musical, me!—tone [laughs].
albums had just been me butchering jazz which is why I think we play well Currently I’m playing a Kenny Hill
tunes [laughs]. I’d only occasionally done together. Because even though we have double-top classical, which has a pretty
originals. But Mark has really encouraged different techniques and approaches, we dissimilar but complementary sound to
Photo by Andrea Corrona Jenkins

me to write some tunes. And I’ve always both try to tell a story. Eric’s Santa Cruz. It has a lot of volume.
been kind of a chord nerd, but Mark is Eric has a very manly way of playing,
even more so. I’m definitely thinking Mark, at the Genghis Cohen gig, you probably because he does 700 push-ups
much more about harmony, and my played a nylon-string, and Eric, you before a show. I need a little extra beef
playing has become more edited, which I used a small-body Santa Cruz. What because I have a pretty soft touch. The
think is definitely needed. guitars did you play on Artifact? Kenny Hill’s been great for this, and

Eric doesn’t have to pull back as much when I’m Skye: It was very spontaneous. We a chorus or two for the album. If
taking the lead. played some of the tunes together something’s done all in one take, you
for the first time when we went in can’t really borrow from Peter to pay
Why didn’t you use the Kenny Hill on the to make the album. It’s basically just Paul, you just remove a big piece of
recording? one long take. We were in and out of real estate.
Goldenberg: I didn’t have that particular guitar at the studio in about three hours.
the time. I had a different Kenny Hill, with a raised Goldenberg: There was only one song Your roles on the record—and in
fretboard that I had a little bit of an ergonomic that we recorded more than once. concert—seem pretty fluid.
problem with. The one I most recently got is a Skye: There were a couple of tunes Skye: There’s plenty of times on
Performance Model, so it doesn’t have the raised that went a little longer when we the record and live where we start
fretboard. It feels just right when I play it, and it’s recorded them, and we edited out off where I’m comping and Mark’s
got such a beautiful tone. I play a lot of electric and
[steel-string] acoustic and classical, and the transition
to the Kenny Hill is very smooth. It doesn’t take
much to get used to its nut width and string height.

Mark, in a nutshell, how’d you arrive at the

sophisticated harmonic language that’s apparent
on Artifact?
Goldenberg: I had great musical teachers and
mentors who loved harmony and the handling—
and mishandling—of notes: Ted Greene, Richard
Pick, and [pianist] Abe Fraser.

Eric, what about your prodigious fingerstyle

technique, which involves fingerpicks and a
thumbpick—an unusual approach for jazz?
Skye: My fingerstyle technique is kind of a
hodgepodge. I did study classical guitar for a few
years in middle and high school, but I don’t want
to overstate that. I didn’t get all that far. To be
honest, I don’t really put a lot of thought into it. I
just hear stuff and try to pull it off. Actually, I’ve
thought quite a bit more about flatpicking. I’d like
to get a little right-hand routine going this year.
I’m going to research it.

The album has a beautifully detailed sound.

Describe how it was recorded.
Goldenberg: I have a friend, Lynne Earls, who
lives close by me in Los Angeles and has a really
nice studio, so she recorded the album for us.
It’s a very simple recording. We didn’t do stereo
miking and instead put a single [Neumann] U 87
on each guitar. That’s not a mic people generally
use for recording acoustic, but I have one and so
does my friend, and it made sense to go with our
matched pair. It wasn’t particularly close-miked.
We just sat across the room from each other and
played. I don’t think Lynne used any compression
at all on the recording. It’s pretty straight-ahead
and it’s a good representation of what we sound
like in person, except we added, like, three or four www.rainsong.com
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premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 121

playing more single-note lines or the other
way around, although it’s never really YOUTUBE IT
In this live July 2015 performance of “The Soft Shell” from their new
quite that simple. When I’m comping, duo album, Artifact, Mark Goldenberg and Eric Skye display their
I’m never just holding down the fort. I’m graceful style of musical conversation on nylon- and steel-string
trying to think of chords that will make guitars. They constantly pass themes and melodies back and forth,
with Goldenberg initially taking the lead and Skye entering with a
Mark zig or zag one way or the other. But
bass note melody at the 2:00 mark, which he expands and explores
more and more live, and I think a few
FACTOID places on the record, there’s these little
until 3:30, when Goldenberg retakes the baton.
YouTube search term: Eric Skye and Mark Goldenberg - The Soft Shell
The duo’s ultra-
spontaneous transcendent moments where we’re both
approach and deep
rapport paid off in
playing single notes and they become everyone listen quietly. We do a mic in Goldenberg: It’s interesting. I used to
the studio, where it intertwined and we completely leave front of each of us. It’s so simple. We’re a think that the audience for what we
took a mere three the comping-and-single-note paradigm soundman’s delight, as we like to say. do is just other people who play
hours to record
the entire Artifact behind. I really dig that. On “The Skye: I think we’re fortunate to be at the fingerstyle guitar, but we played at a
album in, says Skye, Bridgetown Shuffle,” there’s the place point where the people come to really concert in Portland where it seemed
“just one long take.”
where it gets into this sort of baroque listen. Last time we played Portland we like a cross-section of music lovers
thing with these open strings ringing out. didn’t even use any mics—just sat next to were in attendance—it wasn’t a guitar-
When we can get to that place, there’s each other and played guitar, enjoying the centered crowd, per se. I think that
where the beauty is. That’s the shit. natural acoustics of a really nice-sounding when we get together as a duo, we’re
room. We did that up in Seattle last year, kind of transcending the normal world
Despite the minimal setup, is it too. We’ve never plugged in, except for an of fingerstyle guitar and going into
difficult to get a good sound live? appearance at one NAMM show. some other territory. We could be
Goldenberg: Not so much. We just up there with two trombones and
go for it live and try to get the best You mention people coming to really it would be the same effect. Well,
acoustic sound we can without using listen. What have your audiences hopefully it wouldn’t be the same
any electronics—just mics—and have been like? effect [laughs].

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How to Apply Fairy Dust


A choir of fairies s there anyone out there who doesn’t in C major, I finger the overdub in D.
(left to right): know the Troggs Tape? The one I omit most of the low notes, which are
Martin Style
0 steel string,
where the ’60s British band has an likelier to add muck than animation, and a bitch to intonate. It took me a few tries
Taylor 12-string, epic studio meltdown arguing idiotically focus on the soprano melody. Even so, to lay down the Ex. 5 overdub more or
Veillette Avant- about how to record a new song? If not, the lower-octave notes bulk up the part less in tune.
Gryphon, Baby YouTube it this instant, assuming you can while adding the desired dust. Ukulele can be another low-cost fairy
Taylor (Nashville
handle rude language. I’d embed the clip With 12-string, it can be a crapshoot duster. Ex. 6 employs a baritone uke
Lanikai ukulele, here, but it doesn’t seem wise to populate whether a particular note gets doubled in tuned C–F–A–D, which is like the top
Kentucky a PG page with 500 or so f-bombs. unison or at the octave, since the lower four guitar strings when you capo at the
mandolin. But just a few can’t hurt! Take this four string pairs are tuned in octaves while 10th fret, but with the lowest string an
memorable exchange: the top two are in unison. Sometimes that octave higher.
“I agree—it is a good song.” randomness works, but you may prefer While the previous examples use bright-
“But it f**king won’t be unless we a consistent sound as you shift between toned high strings to contrast the soft
spend a little bit of f**king thought strings, like you get with the mandolin warmth of my small-bodied mahogany
and imagination to f**king make it a in Ex. 3. (All mandolin string pairs are Martin acoustic, the nylon-stringed uke is
f**king number one! We’ve got to put a unisons.) Also, it adds less mass than even softer and warmer than the Martin,
little bit of f**king fairy dust over the the 12-string with its low strings—these and the parts mesh in a very different way.
bastard, you know?” fairies are smaller. The mandolin is tuned Ex. 7 works in a similar fashion. Can you
Dude’s got a point. While there’s no to its standard G–D–A–E (low to high), identify the instrument?
universally accepted definition of f***king which requires non-guitar fingering. Yup, we’re back where we started—it’s
fairy dust, most probably interpret it as a the same guitar as on the initial part,
splash of high-pitched color or animation Gryphons Are Real but capoed at the 10th fret for a tuning
that seduces the listener into a recording. If you prefer a mandolin-like effect on close to the ukulele’s. Sometimes the best
And one of the best ways to add f-dust is a more guitar-like instrument, you can’t approach is to just use the instrument
to double acoustic guitar parts in higher beat the Veillette Avant-Gryphon. It’s an you started with, but with the part voiced
registers. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of octave-up 12-string, but with all string elsewhere on the neck. We’ll dive deeper
slapping on a capo and transposing a part, pairs in unison as on a mandolin. It’s into that technique next time.
a topic we’ll tackle soon. But first, let’s tuned a minor-seventh above standard—
evaluate some alternate f-dust instruments. that is, like the 12-string in Ex. 2, but One More F**king Thing
up an octave. That means Ex. 4 is also Just for fun, I pulled up all seven parts
Double Trouble? fingered in D. at once, and to my amazement, they
Sometimes acoustic tracks are doubled Gryphons are beautiful instruments, actually sound kind of cool together. I
as literally as possible, as in Ex. 1. Here but not everyone can afford a fairy duster listened only to the original guitar as I
a guitar enters on the left channel, and that costs over a grand. Fortunately, you tracked each overdub, so Ex. 8 is a bit
then gets doubled as precisely a possible don’t need a fine instrument to get a fine of a rhythmic mess, though it could be
on the right using the same instrument. effect. For example, the mandolin in Ex. assembled more precisely. Might you ever
Even this simple technique generates 3 is a cheap but nice-sounding Kentucky use this harpsichord-from-hell sound? It
high-end energy as the guitars’ upper model from Saga. Ex. 5 also makes a depends on the context!
harmonics phase against each other. (I dramatic effect with a low-cost axe: a tiny But at this point, we’re not really
added drums and bass midway through Baby Taylor travel guitar in “Nashville sprinkling fairy dust on the bastard—more
to illustrate how you can still perceive the high-strung” tuning. Here, the top two like burying the bastard under a mountain
animation in a full-band arrangement.) strings are tuned standard, while the of fairy droppings. Bon appétit.
But sometimes when you add a higher- lower four are an octave up from normal.
pitched part—especially one that requires (Obviously, you need to restring for this JOE GORE has recorded and
different fingering—it’s not always effect. Some players simply swipe the high performed with Tom Waits, PJ
Harvey, Tracy Chapman, Courtney
possible, or even desirable, to clone the strings from a standard 12-string set.) The Love, Marianne Faithfull, Les
Claypool, Flea, DJ Shadow, John
previous part. It’s often good to simplify, result is a lighter, leaner version of Ex. 4, Cale, and many other artists. Joe
as in Ex. 2. Here the second guitar is a with no low notes and less mass overall. has written thousands of articles
about music and helps develop
12-string. It’s tuned a whole-step below The downside to inexpensive music tools for Apple and other
standard, so while the original part is instruments like these is that they can be clients. He blogs at tonefiend.com.

Click here to hear audio samples at premierguitar.com/feb2016


Five Ways to Use a Digital Multimeter


digital multimeter (Photo 1) is the to the black wire—the pickup’s primary 1
perfect tool for testing many lead. Touch the multimeter’s black test
components on a guitar or bass. lead to the green and bare ground wires
We use them in the shop for testing on the pickup. This should give you an
pickups, output jacks, switches, and accurate impedance measurement.
batteries, and you can also use them for To make sense of a particular
testing cables and wiring harnesses. Best of model pickup’s reading, check with the
all, you don’t need to spend a fortune to manufacturer for its exact impedance.
get a good multimeter. I still use the one I If the impedance measurement you 2
bought at Radio Shack 23 years ago, and take is significantly lower than the
such luthier supply companies as Allparts manufacturer’s rating, then you know
and Stewart-MacDonald have excellent there’s something wrong with the pickup.
multimeters designed for working on a A multimeter can tell you a lot about a
guitar, priced from $25 to $35. pickup before you wire it up. For example,
humbuckers typically measure at around
Let’s explore five ways to use a 8k ohms for a vintage-style pickup to as
multimeter: much as 25k for a high-output pickup.
• Testing pickups The 16.25k reading we see in Photo 2
(impedance and functionality) indicates this is a hot humbucker. Single-
• Mapping out a switch coil pickups can range from 6k (vintage) 3
• Testing a guitar cable up to 16k (high-output).
• Identifying the lugs on a TRS Mapping out a switch. If you don’t
output jack have a diagram to follow, wiring a new
• Checking battery life switch can be frustrating. An easy way to
save time when tackling a wiring project
Testing pickups. On many occasions is to use your multimeter to map out the
I’ve used a multimeter before buying a switch. Simply set your multimeter to the
used pickup. I learned the importance of continuity setting, which is marked with
this the hard way when I bought a used a speaker or soundwave icon. This setting
pickup at a guitar show, only to discover will produce an audible tone to let you
it didn’t work when I got it home. If I’d know when a circuit is closed.
brought a multimeter with me, I could On a 3-way toggle switch, for
have tested the pickup on the spot and example, touch either one of the side
saved some money. lugs with one of the test leads from
It’s a simple process to test a pickup. the multimeter, then touch the middle
Set the multimeter to the ohm setting lug—that’s typically the output—with
and touch its red test lead to the pickup’s the other test lead (Photo 3). If you hear
primary lead (hot) and touch the black a tone, then you know the switch is on
test lead to the pickup’s ground wire. in that position. If there’s no tone in that
If you’re testing a humbucker with position, the switch is off.
four conductors, make sure that the It’s a similar process for a Strat-style
wires are properly attached to each other. 5-way blade switch (Photo 4). Touch the
For example, before you try to measure last lug on the switch—this will be the
the impedance on a Seymour Duncan output lug—with one of the test leads
humbucker (Photo 2), make sure that from the multimeter. Then touch each of
the red and white leads are connected to the other lugs with the other test lead and
each other and isolated from any other listen for the tone. By carefully working
connection, and the green and bare leads through each switch position, you’ll be
are also connected to each other. Touch able to locate its corresponding input lug.
the red test lead from the multimeter As you map a switch’s connections, draw

5 6 7

a diagram so you’ll have something to there’s also a ground to complete the don’t want to arrive at a gig with a dying
refer to in the future. circuit for the electronics. battery in a stomp, but you certainly
Testing a guitar cable. Have you ever Sometimes the lugs for the tip and don’t want to swap out all the batteries in
arrived at a gig or rehearsal only to find sleeve are different lengths, which makes your gear before every show. Some may
you have no signal? The worst part is not them easier to identify, but many TRS still have plenty of life in them, so why
knowing where the problem lies. Is the amp jacks have the same length lugs with no not do a battery check to get the facts?
blown? Does the guitar have a loose output markings to let you know which one is (Of course, once you reach a certain
jack? Chances are it’s the guitar cable— for the battery and which one is for the number of pedals, it makes economic
that’s the place to start troubleshooting. primary lead. This can be problematic if and ecological sense to get a powered
The good news is, it’s quick and easy to test you’re installing a new pickup system into pedalboard and be done with batteries.)
your cable with a multimeter. an acoustic guitar, adding active electronics In the early days of rock ’n’ roll,
Set your multimeter to test continuity, to a solidbody, or troubleshooting an guitarists would test a 9V battery by
then touch the tip of both cable plugs with existing setup. But once again, the touching its terminals to their tongues—
the test leads (Photo 5). If you hear a solid multimeter makes it easy to sort this out. not a very accurate (or sanitary)
tone, you have a connection. But don’t First plug a guitar cable into the output approach. If you received a mild shock,
stop there: Move the cable around a little jack and switch your multimeter to the the battery was deemed gig-worthy.
to see if it has a short, and test it again. If continuity setting. Touch one of the The best way to test a battery is with a
after shaking the cable and testing it several test leads to the tip of the guitar cable’s multimeter. With it, you can test just
more times you continue to get a solid exposed plug and touch the other test lead about any type of battery: AA, 9V,
tone, you can assume the cable is good. to one of the lugs on the TRS output jack lithium, or even a disc battery.
However, if the test tone is intermittent (Photo 6). Listen for a tone to identify Set the multimeter to the DC V setting
you’ll know there’s a problem. You should which lug makes the connection. The lug (and if your multimeter offers it, to the
also test the ground on the cable. Simply that gives you a tone while you’re touching appropriate voltage range). Now touch the
touch the shaft of both plugs with the test the plug tip is where you’ll attach the red test lead to the plus battery terminal
leads and listen for a solid tone. primary lead from a pickup or preamp. and the black test lead to the minus
Testing a TRS jack. The output jacks Next, while still touching the plug’s terminal. The multimeter will display
on passive guitars are pretty simple—they tip with the test lead, touch the other the battery’s voltage (Photo 7). If you’re
have one lug for the primary lead and lug on the jack. There should be no testing a 9V battery and the display on
one for the ground. However, output tone. Keep your test lead on that lug and the multimeter reads less than 9 volts, the
jacks for an active system have three move the other test lead from the plug’s battery is weak. If the battery measures 9
lugs. Called a tip/ring/sleeve (TRS) jack, tip to its shaft. You should hear a tone. volts or more, you’re good to go.
these are common in electric guitars This identifies the lug you’re currently
with active pickups or onboard circuitry, touching as the battery switch for the JOHN LEVAN has written five
guitar repair books, all published
and are found in most acoustic guitars active electronics in your guitar. by Mel Bay. His bestseller, Guitar
equipped with an internal preamp. The Testing batteries. Given the amount Care, Setup & Maintenance, is
a detailed guide with a forward
tip is for the primary lead, the sleeve is of battery-operated gear most guitarists by Bob Taylor. LeVan welcomes
questions about his PG column
for a battery switch that turns the battery have in their rig, it can be a challenge to or books. Drop an email to
on when a cable is plugged into it, and stay on top of available battery power. You guitarservices@aol.com.

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With one foot in the ’50s and ’60s golden era and the other
in the dark, complex waters of the present comes surf-noir
quartet La Luz’s sophomore LP Weirdo Shrine—a fitting
album title for a band transgressing its influences.

erhaps the most difficult rabbit compelling one. Seattle’s heiresses to the The band’s songs are rife with lyrical
to pull out of any musical hat is surf-rock throne, La Luz, have provided depth and an honesty that delivers La
to wring something fresh, truly a testament to this with the release of Luz’s music far from the novelty surf
vital, and contemporary from the their sophomore LP, Weirdo Shrine, a and shines a new light on the genre as
bones of a form already steeped in its own lushly adorned, energetic adventure of an something more than a vehicle for fun
history. Authenticity, especially in the ultra- album that fuses surf-guitar, girl-group guitar playing, though instrumentals
romanticized genres of guitar music, is no harmonies, and dark, eerie organ in a way like the barreling “Hey Papi” make sure
small undertaking. Neither is the quest to that provides a modern take on a vintage there’s still plenty of fun guitar-fiber
say something new and relevant that draws vibe with conviction, sidestepping the lurking in the depths of La Luz’s surf-noir
heavily from revered, iconic, historic sounds. irony that plagues most surf-rock bands. sound to keep you on your toes.
Does the charm in retro guitar Led by guitarist/frontwoman Shana We spoke with Cleveland about her
music live in the music itself or in the Cleveland and rounded out by Lena journey into the heart of surf guitar, her
Photo by Andrew Imannaka

nostalgia it evokes? Regardless, these Simon on bass, Alice Sandahl on keys, influences as a player, and why La Luz is
styles are iconic for a reason, and when a and Marian Li Pino on drums, La Luz more than the band’s genre-label might
contemporary artist does make a unique is a gem amid the sea of myopic, reverb- put on. Added bonus: Read “Everything
statement using classic textures, tones, slathered, kitschy garage-rock currently in Between” sidebar to hear bassist Lena
and ideas, it’s usually a particularly riding the wave of the psych-rock revival. Simon’s approach to La Luz’s low end.

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 129


• Late ’90s Mexican Fender Stratocaster

• Late ’70s Music Man HD-130 combo

• ’60s Gibson Reverb III outboard reverb
• Death By Audio Fuzz War
• Custom delay pedal built by Tyler
Venture at the Trading Musician in Seattle
• Boss TU-2 ChromaticTuner

• Various brands (.010–.046)

• Dunlop .88 mm

Cleveland plays How did you get into surf music? a band called the Bunnies back in the it was so exciting and rewarding when I
one guitar—a
I saw this band called the Diminished ’60s. That band put out an album, that would finally figure something out. What
Mexican Fender Men play right after I moved to Seattle. I believe has been re-released recently, I love about that style—and I think this
Stratocaster. They’ve been around Seattle for maybe a called Nippon Guitars, and that record and is probably true about any style of guitar
She bought it decade, and they’re this really great, dark, his playing has become really my major playing—is there is just so much you
from Trading strange surf-rock band, and I saw them guitar influence these days. Definitely can do with one note in surf guitar. Link
Musician, the
Seattle music
play at a house show. The show was just Link Wray, too. When I first started trying Wray in particular used so many tricks
shop where she so much fun, and I don’t think I’d even to play surf guitar, I started by trying to and ways to approach playing any one
gets all of consciously listened to surf music prior figure out how to play his songs. note, whether it was a hammer-on, or a
her gear. to that, but I was just so blown away by slide, or a bent string, and learning those
them that it sparked up this serious desire How did you go about learning to play parts by ear was really satisfying for me.
to be in a band like that. In fact, I was in the style? That’s the only way I’ve ever tried
another band at the time and I eventually It was kind of ridiculous, actually. I had to learn, honestly. I don’t have much
just came to the conclusion that I had to this Link Wray compilation—an actual patience for things like YouTube tutorials,
learn to play like the Diminished Men vinyl record—and I’d pick out a couple and I’m not sure if other ways are better
and was done with the band I was in. of songs a day and sit there moving or not, but this is what works best for me.
the needle back over and over again. It
Which players influenced you the most would take me like an hour to learn 10 Your playing sounds like someone that
Photo by Sam Gehrke

when you started getting into surf music? seconds of what he was doing, so it was a has studied the genre deeply. Are you at
A big one for me, especially since I started ridiculous, super tedious way of learning. all focused on authenticity when
playing with La Luz, is a Japanese guitarist But it ended up being a great way to writing your guitar parts?
named Takeshi Terauchi, who was in learn because, while it was a lot of work, Continued on p. 133

Lena Simon’s
bass approach
is to be the
glue between
the melody, As the bassist of La Luz, Lena Simon is chiefly It’s Alive, definitely made me a better bassist and gave me a lot
harmony, and responsible for the locomotion of the band’s often of insight on how to play with this band. When we started
rhythm. “I play
high-velocity songs, but she also provides an writing Weirdo Shrine, I remember thinking that I wanted to
with flatwound
strings and important counterpoint for guitarist Shana Cleveland’s introduce a lot of straight-ahead groove parts to make things
palm mute with adventurous guitar work. She tells us about her role a little thumpier. With Shana being both the lead singer and
a pick,” says within the band’s subtly complex arrangements, her the only guitar in the band, she often has to alternate between
Simon. “That’s killer tone, and which players she admires most. leads, rhythm parts, and solos. My job is to decide when to fill
the secret right
there. Playing-
the gaps between her notes or strumming and when to simply
wise, I want my How deep were you into surf music before joining La Luz? support them. For example, the opening of “You Disappear”
picking to match Surf music wasn’t really a genre I had explored much before is a fast picking, unison bass and guitar melody where I then
the kick drum’s joining La Luz, at least not in its authentic form, like what guys split off and play rhythm while she finishes the melody. On the
timbre and my
like Dick Dale and Link Wray did. But I’ve always been a fan other hand, “With Davey” required a more rhythmic role from
notes to be an
extension of of old rock ’n’ roll, soul, and ’60s girl groups. When I heard La me for the majority of the song, where the groove is like its own
the drums.” Luz that’s more of what I jumped to than the whole surf thing. I melody. So I’m a little more active than, say, a bassist in a band
definitely feel more knowledgeable about surf than I did before, with two guitars, for example.
and with that, a deeper appreciation for it, but I wouldn’t say it’s
ever become an obsession. Your bass tone works really well against Shana’s guitar
sound. How do you go about getting that particular thump
Do you take influence or queues from any particular bass and percussive quality?
players or bands? It’s all about getting a nice round low end with a bright attack and
I’m always a fan of players who use the whole instrument, but everything in between works around those two points. I play with
can tell when to take on a supportive role and when it’s time to flatwound strings and palm mute with a pick. That’s the secret
do something flashy. Bands like the Growlers use a lot of bass right there. Playing-wise, I want my picking to match the kick
melodies, and the bassist from the Shivas, Eric Shanafelt, can drum’s timbre and my notes to be an extension of the drums.
play a ton of notes and still somehow not sound like he’s playing
too many, and I think he’s amazing. Of course, Paul McCartney What was it like working with Ty Segall?
is a master at composing very thoughtful bass lines and, more Ty is the sweetest, most prolific guy. We wanted a very live
recently, I’m really into the bass work on Tame Impala’s records. sound for Weirdo Shrine and the warehouse where we recorded
Bass really is the glue between melody, harmony, and rhythm— really helped to shape that. When we were recording, Ty only
so anyone who can marry all three can count me as an admirer. had one guideline that really stuck with me: “One mistake,
still good. Two mistakes, maybe (but probably still good).
Photo by Sam Gehrke

You do a lot to keep things moving under what Shana plays. Three mistakes, do it again.” I think this was Ty’s way of
How do you approach writing your parts? keeping it a truly live record. It’s thrilling if you mess up, and
I’m not the original bass player of La Luz. Abbey Blackwell was we kept a lot of the mistakes, which I like—they add a lot of
and she’s a killer bassist. Learning her parts from the first album, character to the album.


• Late model Hofner CT Club Bass

• Ampeg B200R Rocket Bass
Diamond Series 1x15 Combo

• Black Cat Bass Octave Fuzz
• Boss TU-2 Chromatic Tuner

• La Bella short scale flatwounds
• Dunlop Tortex 1.14 mm

No, not really. I really admire a lot of those

players and the people who crafted that
sound and I certainly try to copy them to
some extent, but I mostly feel out of control
when I go to write my own music. I don’t
know that I’m capable of creating a true
reproduction of that style, though it’s cool to
hear that it sounds authentic. I think a lot of
that lies in the tonal choices. I try not to go
for a super clean, modern-sounding tone.
I think it also has something to do with
the fact that what I mostly listen to is so
guitar-centric, and not just surf guitar, but
really any guitar playing from the late ’50s
and ’60s. There was sort of this one style of
sick electric guitar playing that people did
across so many genres during that time. There
was a lot of really great country lead guitar
in that era that was similar in a lot of ways to
a lot of surf lead guitar, and even in the soul
music and Asian rock music from that time.
So it’s got a lot more to do with my listening
interests being so focused on that early rock
’n’ roll, riff-heavy lead style than directly
striving for authenticity in my own playing.

The tones on the album are fantastic.

Did Ty [Segall, producer] bring in
any particularly cool gear to track
guitars with?

premierguitar.com VintageKing_PG_0615_Guitar_PRINT.indd 1 PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 11:45 133

6/16/152016 AM
“Ty only had one guideline that really stuck with me:
‘One mistake, still good. Two mistakes, maybe
(but probably still good). Three mistakes, do it again.’”
—Lena Simon
We pretty much used my stage rig, me after we finished the album. That’s a there the sound that I’m after and they’re
but I played through one of Ty’s amps, Death By Audio Fuzz War. I’d never used cool with me doing some trial-and-error,
though it was just the amp that he had fuzz before and now I really dig it. so that’s how I’ve come by most of my
that I felt got the closest to my own stuff. It was recommended to me as a
amp’s sound. It was a ’70s Fender Super What guitar did you use to track really good guitar for the money for the
Six Reverb. Ty did have some cool, the record? sound I was going for, so I went with it
unconventional ideas about how to EQ The same Mexican Strat that I’ve been and I absolutely love it!
my amp. Early on, he goes “Turn the playing for a long time.
treble all the way up!” and I said “Are What was it like working with Ty?
you sure about that?!” But it worked out How did that guitar come into your life? The coolest thing for me was that his
really well and it’s actually very close to Like most of the gear that I have, I approach to recording was really close
how I sound live. bought it at a small music shop in Seattle to how I always wanted to record, but
Tracking this album was also the first called the Trading Musician. I’m not a never had the chance to, which is almost
time I used a fuzz pedal, which Ty let gearhead by any means, so any time I entirely live and willfully letting go of
me borrow to record with and then gave need something, I tell the people working some of the controllable factors in the







process. Things like using a lot of room mics Aside from that, I was going Do you ever intersect that niche
and recording all of the instruments in the same through some very heavy things when world of neo-surf guitar, where
room without sound barriers to keep things I wrote the first album. There was a most of the people involved wear
from bleeding. That appeals to me much more mass shooting in Seattle and some era-specific clothing and are
than trying to tightly control the sound of friends of mine were killed. That was Dick Dale clones?
everything. I’m always seeking to get the most really weighing heavily on my mind at It’s weird how rarely we intersect
live sound I can. the time and death just kept cropping that world, really. We’ve only ever
up, and I think death is something that performed with a few straightforward
I’ve read that the album was tracked in an actual will always crop up no matter what surf bands, and none of them have
surf shop. How did that happen? you’re doing in life, so it seems natural been the big costume/big attitude type
It wasn’t our intended location, but we needed to for it to be a part of my writing. of bands. They’ve been more in the
find a new spot to track at the very last minute
and Ty’s buddy Tyler shapes surfboards in a
warehouse in San Dimas and volunteered the use
of his space. So a bunch of the guys from Ty’s
band came and helped us clear everything out and


move all of his recording equipment into the surf
shop and we just camped out in there for a week!

A lot of bands these days toy with surf-rock

textures and use a ton of reverb on what I
think boils down to pretty average garage-
rock, but few of them really go all the way or
try to say something new within the form. Do
you have an opinion on that trend at all?
That was a big thing that made me want to start
this band. I kept reading descriptions of bands
with “surf guitar” and surf/whatever bands, and
they’d never sound anything like that. I’d always
be let down by these bands and they all sounded
like each other and I felt like it was a style that
really was lacking and it was something I really
wanted to hear more of, and I really wanted to
combine it with tons of vocal harmonies.

There is quite a bit of darkness to the

band’s sound and I’ve heard people refer to
it as “surf-noir.” Where does that element
come from?
It’s not something that I set out to do at all,
but it definitely comes through in a big way
and it’s one aspect of the band that receives a
lot of discussion. Actually, we’ve been touring
in Europe for the last month and there was
a review of our show in Glasgow and The
Guardian referred to us as “doom-wop,” which I
found pretty appropriate.
The most exciting songs to me are songs
that have the sort of duality and an element w/ MIDI Control
of darkness to them. If it’s a love song, real
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premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 135

realm of party bands that happen to play
that style because it’s a fun genre, but not YOUTUBE IT
many surf original bands. A lot of the bands La Luz enchants with a performance of “Sleep
Till They Die” on KEXP. Note the four-part vocal
we play with have a bit of surf influence, harmonies throughout, and a tasteful solo by
but are not as obsessed with it as we are, like Shana Cleveland at 2:50.
Guantanamo Baywatch, who I think of as a YouTube search term: La Luz - Sleep Till They Die
(Live on KEXP)
surf band, but there are country and punk-
rock elements to what they do. I’m not sure

Dream in Color
what the purists would really think of us? That song was just me really wanting to noticed little inklings of that being
write a song for Marian [Li Pino] to go a reality. I feel like sometimes we’re
Is it ever an issue writing guitar parts crazy on. A lot of the instrumentals I’ve not taken seriously because we have
that jive well with the keyboards written are really focused on my guitar the surf label, and I feel that surf as a
without taking up the same sonic space? melody and I wanted one that focused genre is a bit of a dirty word in some
No, but it’s something we’re still figuring more on some heavy drumming. Putting way, where people hear the term and
out as we go. I’ll usually write a full the vocal harmonies on the end of it was automatically think it’s a gimmick or a
song and then we figure out as a band a great touch because it’s a more macho novelty, but I hope it doesn’t become a
where we’ll take our respective solos, but song than we’d normally play and having detriment. Everyone has to pick a couple
we don’t put too much premeditated a four-part female harmony on the end of words to describe themselves and it’s
conscious thought into it—we just jam it balances it really well. unfortunate that one genre label might
out typically. be limiting to you in the way another
Do you ever wonder if identifying as label wouldn’t be. I feel that we’re also a
“Hey Papi” to me stands out as a big a surf band will be a disservice if you pretty new band, so I feel that, hopefully,
moment in the record for you as a ever break out of that sound? any labels and stigmas only remain as
guitarist. What does the song mean It didn’t occur to me at all when we an introduction and fall away when we
to you? started playing, but since then I’ve release more work.

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The story of three differently abled young Londoners
whose band, the AutistiX, is inspiring audiences, filmmakers,
and even Sir Tom Jones with relentless humor, fearless
performances, and a burning passion.

retty much from the moment our trans-Atlantic Skype decides to invite legendary singer Tom Jones onstage—I’m fully
video call begins, 19-year-old AutistiX bassist Luke expecting a call full of playful banter and good-natured ribbing.
Steels is busting chops. He begins with mine. Unsure On that score, Luke does not disappoint: At various points in
whether Premier Guitar is known to him and the other our call the tall, robust guitarist who reluctantly dons a 4-string
core members of the London-based band on the call— for the AutistiX will joke about just about everything—from
20-year-old guitarist Jack Beaven-Duggan, 22-year-old drum- his bandmates’ supposed regret about inviting him into their
mer Saul Zur-Szpiro, and 35-year-old vocalist/bandleader/men- group, to killing Jack if he ever finds out he’s a Justin Bieber
tor Jim Connelly—I begin by introducing myself and asking if fan, and listening to Motörhead while in the womb.
they’ve heard of PG. It’s not just Luke’s antics that are grabbing the AutistiX all
“I’ve heard of it too many times,” sorts of attention around the world, though. For starters, Jack,
Luke deadpans. Luke, and Saul—each of whom has been diagnosed with at
Band manager Susan Zur-Szpiro, Saul’s mom, immediately least one type of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)—are fearless
chimes in from somewhere offscreen, “You can tell he’s the performers with a deep passion for music. Case in point: They
band joker.” didn’t bother approaching Sir Tom Jones beforehand about
I’m not fazed. Having witnessed Luke’s spur-of-the-moment joining them onstage. When the obviously surprised and nervous
humor in multiple YouTube videos—including a touching crooner of hits like “She’s a Lady” and “It’s Not Unusual” finally
10-minute documentary by The Guardian that begins with him joined them and was informed they’d be playing the Beatles’
saying what a “miserable” experience it is being in the AutistiX, “Help,” he explained he’d never sung it before but would do
and another clip of a charity-gala performance where he his best, then quickly popped a throat lozenge. To uproarious

Below (left to right): AutistiX dad John Duggan, an unidentified fan, Jack Beaven-Duggan, Luke Steels, Jim Connelly, Saul Zur-Szpiro,
and Saul’s dad, Michael Zur-Szpiro.

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 139

The AutistiX
rock the Jubilee
Club—one of
many London
venues they
June 13, 2014.

laughter, Jack then reassured Jones long-running children’s program Sesame The lack of awareness isn’t due to
through the mic for all to hear: “Always Street, as well as occasional spot-on media a complete lack of truth in popular
believe in yourself.” (“I thought it [the portrayals such as NBC’s depiction of stereotypes about autism. The problem
lozenges] was cyanide pills, personally,” the young Max Braverman character, a is that most aren’t familiar with the “S”
Luke quips during our call. “That’s an boy with Asperger’s syndrome, in the in ASD—the more accurate way of
extreme way to get out of it.”) Parenthood series that ran from 2010 referring to the condition. Broadly defined,
But the AutistiX are turning heads at until early 2015. autism is a disorder of the brain and
least as much because of their inspiring That said, unless you’re close to central nervous system that impairs social
story. And it’s not just showing up in someone with an ASD, there’s a good interaction and communication—verbal
feel-good local newspaper pieces, either. chance the word “autism” primarily and nonverbal—and is often accompanied
It’s resonating with everyday people. It’s conjures vague memories of the by repetitive behaviors and preoccupation
resonating with musicians and artists. debunked theory that autism is caused with very specific interests. The word
(Filmmaker Eddie Sternberg based a by mercury-tainted vaccinations. Or “spectrum” denotes a wide range of
central character in his I Used to Be perhaps two-dimensional stereotypes so variation within a group of subjects that
Famous—a contender for Best British prevalent in movies and TV shows, where share some core commonalities. But the
Short at the recent Leeds International more often than not autistics are weirdoes thing is, even autistics and their loved
Film Festival—on Saul Zur-Szpiro.) It’s who can’t carry on a conversation but ones grapple with the spectrum concept.
resonating because it’s an unlikely coming are mind-boggling math geniuses or Sometimes the symptoms are so subtle or
together of simultaneously unique yet expert memorizers. It’s no wonder the so confined to a specific area of difficulty
typical young men who defy stereotypes mystery remains, though. According to that they’re often not diagnosed and
and refuse to be fenced in by their the latest statistics from the U.S. Centers treated for years. Sometimes youth with
challenges. That might sound cheesy and for Disease Control and Prevention, only ASDs agonize in silence and isolation while
cliché, but a closer look reveals that it’s about 1.5 percent of American children parents overlook difficult-to-detect cues
probably an understatement. have an ASD. And The Lancet, one of or misread behavior and think, “It’s just a
the country’s oldest and most respected phase.” Or worse, mete out punishment
Still in the Shadows medical journals, estimated in 2013 that when troubling behaviors arise rather than
In the last decade or so, society has only about 22 million people are afflicted responding with love and committing to
come a long way in understanding and worldwide. It’s common enough to finding help.
accepting people with ASDs. Positive register as a hazy blip on everyone’s radar, While travails vary widely for ASD
steps include the recent unveiling of but rare enough to keep the condition sufferers and their families, they share
an autistic Muppet named Julia on the misunderstood and in the shadows. two key things in common: feelings of

powerlessness and frustration, and heartbreak over “He couldn’t hold the sticks, so we had could cope with being in a group
how difficult it can be for autistics to form the sorts to use Velcro. And he couldn’t reach [because of his hyperacusis].” But
of meaningful friendships every human craves. the pedal of the bass drum, so we got now, Susan explains, “the music is
something to build it up.” stratospheric—it’s everything for
Behind the Smiles After taking lessons from a him.” Indeed, watch Saul in action
Onstage and off, Saul, Luke, and Jack appear to general music teacher for a while, and you’ll see he couldn’t hide his joy
the average observer as nothing if not upbeat. Saul progressed to a dedicated drum and enthusiasm if he tried.
Who wouldn’t be happy rocking in the limelight instructor. “At some point, that “Looking at him, people have
and getting attention from journalists and teacher said music wasn’t something an expectation of what he’s able to
independent filmmakers? But just like the rest of you should do in isolation. It took do—whether it’s family members
us , the AutistiX autistics don’t necessarily wear about another year before I felt Saul who have seen him only in a social
their troubles on their sleeves. If they did—if the
true extent of their struggles were apparent—
chances are society would be quite different.
AutistiX prankster Luke has been diagnosed
with attention deficit disorder (ADD), oppositional
defiant disorder (ODD)—defined by the American
Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual as “a
pattern of angry/irritable mood, argumentative/
defiant behavior, or vindictiveness lasting at least six
months”—and high-functioning (i.e., relatively mild)
autism. Jack has Asperger’s syndrome, a condition
that impedes normative social interactions due to
inhibited capacity to perceive and process nonverbal
interpersonal cues. Asperger’s is also typically
accompanied by extreme focus on niche interests,
and reflexive urges to engage in unusually repetitive
physical movements or sounds (also called stimming).
Drummer Saul faces even greater challenges.
Besides having low-functioning (severe) autism, he’s
essentially blind, has intense difficulty speaking,
and cannot feed or clothe himself, among other
serious health issues.
“When Saul was young, he couldn’t do very
much of anything, to be honest,” says Susan.
“We used to call him our living doll.” Although
he also suffers from hyperacusis—meaning he
can experience fierce pain and agitation from
environmental noises such as barking dogs, car
horns, and crying babies—Saul surprised his parents
as a child by perking up when he heard rhythms
and repetitive sounds such as football chants, the
doorbell, or music played at various support groups.
An epiphany came one day about 12 years ago
when Saul’s sister’s guitar teacher picked him up
and sat down behind his other two sisters’ drum kit.
“He could barely reach the pedals or hold the
sticks,” Susan recalls, “but it was really one of
those light-bulb moments. His eyes lit up like I
had never seen before. In that moment, I realized
drumming could be something for him.”
Given Saul’s physical limitations, however, realizing
this epiphany took some serious workarounds. “He
was very weak and tiny for his age,” Susan continues.

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 141

setting, or people who see what he looks regulation change in Britain resulted or anything like that. It was just a really
like and see him being physically led to in a lot of formerly hospitalized ASD nice space to get together and for them
the drum kit because of his impairments. patients being released to be treated at to express themselves. Since then, being
But when they see him pick up his sticks local community centers. “Initially, I in the AutistiX for me is a two-hours-per-
and start playing, they’re absolutely was a support worker in either daycare week rehearsal, and then we might have a
blown away.” centers or homes, and in the evening I’d gig or two per month.”
go rock out in different bands. Around By Susan’s count, the band plays 20
The GenesiS that time, I was working with a label to 25 gigs per year, including an annual
AutistiX singer and bandleader Jim called Mint Source that’s now called Pure Beatles charity festival and multiple
Connelly has been working with autistic- Mint Records. functions around London. They recently
spectrum groups for more than 15 years “It didn’t really dawn on me until completed a one-week tour of Germany,
now and specializes in music workshops about four years ago [in 2010] that they’ve gone on jaunts to Spain, and they
for newly diagnosed children. However, maybe the two might correlate with have two EPs—Butterflies & Demons and
he fell into it all rather accidentally. one another,” he explains. “I remember Just the Same/Something Better—for sale
His first encounter with ASD kids was the first day I met Jack and we were on iTunes. Susan credits Jim for making
supposed to be a requirement while talking about music. Literally a week it all possible.
studying performing arts in college. after that, it was put forward that we “Jim is really exceptional, both because
“To be honest I was, like, ‘I’m not could use the [group meeting] space as a of his professional experience and his
doing this!’” he admits sheepishly. “I rehearsal space.” Jim soon met Saul, an personality,” she says. “His level of
didn’t do the [coursework] or work acquaintance of Jack’s, and within a week understanding and the way he facilitates
within the learning difficulty sector. I the three were rehearsing. Before long, a creating the music is incredible. He’s very
wasn’t mature enough at the time. This young man with Asperger’s joined them democratic, very good at encouraging.
was when I was, like, 17.” on keytar. “It was basically me, Andreas, It’s very non-hierarchical—we don’t have
A few years later, in 2001, Jim found Saul, and Jack jamming and not really any power plays. He tries to nurture the
himself working in the field after a thinking about gigs or world domination talent of everybody in the band.”

“I like the family dynamic,” says friends. I think he also loves having his singer-songwriters like George Ezra and
Jim. “The challenges I might have with own songs—he always says the titles of Will Young, and a bunch of ampersand
Saul physically or maybe with Luke his songs. I think he loves having that bands—Crosby, Stills & Nash, Simon &
sometimes, those just make it 10 times sense of ownership and creativity, not just Garfunkel, and Mumford & Sons.
better, really.” enjoying the music, but making music.” “You’re the metalhead, aren’t you?”
I ask Luke, whose gear includes Traben
Not Gilmour and Waters Anything but Beliebers Phoenix and Kramer Focus basses, and a
Asked what their favorite part about So which artists influence the music these Behringer US600 Ultra Shifter/Harmonist
being in the AutistiX is, the bandmates’ guys write together? It couldn’t get much pedal that he uses to send split signals
answers are virtually unanimous—though more diverse. “My favorite singer, easily, to two Fender Mustang amps. (He’s also
of course each has his unique way of is Otis Redding,” says Jim. “And by far quite proud of his new Gibson Les Paul
putting it. “It’s really just playing with my favorite British act is Radiohead, Junior 6-string.) “I have a broad taste,”
these guys at gigs,” says Luke, “and also because their albums keep getting better he begins. “Yes there’s the metal side of
not having a band I get into an argument and better. I suppose my connection with things. Black Sabbath, Metallica—I do
with every five seconds. That’s one way Jack and Saul is, when I was growing up, like a bit of mosh pit now and then. Apart
that we’re not like Pink Floyd.” I used to think I was [Oasis lead singer] from, like, a lot of angry music, it’s stuff
“My favorite thing about being in the Liam Gallagher.” like the Prodigy and Pendulum. And
AutistiX,” says Jack, “is … any of us can Jack—whose main gear consists of one that we like and know quite well is a
bring in songs we’ve written in our spare a Fender Modern Player Jaguar, a Vox Britpop band called Menswear. I’m also
time. Everyone takes part in it, making it AC30, and MXR Distortion+ and quite a big fan of Muse.”
into a better song.” Chorus pedals—loves Oasis, Green Day, I mention having interviewed Muse
Saul’s answer is short but emphatic: Feeder, Linkin Park, and the Gaslight bassist Chris Wolstenholme years ago,
“Perform and gig,” followed by, “Jack Anthem. For Saul, Bruce Springsteen and he replies, “Don’t tell him my
and Luke.” His sister Mia, also on the is tops, followed in no particular opinion on Drones—that was a bit
call, adds, “These guys are his closest order by the Beatles, Nirvana, British disappointing.”

Jack chimes in, “They say I look like Matt needs to cut down on the pies, you can still do
Bellamy from Muse when I’ve got my hair up.” this.” Luke, of course.
Luke razzes him, “Or a bad version of Saul’s sister Mia joins in again. “A lot of
Charlie Sheen.” other bands seem autistic—in terms of the
When we get the conversation back on stereotype—when they stand there awkwardly,
track I find out there’s even more diversity don’t look at anyone, and try to act all cool.
in the band’s sound since Jack’s dad, John These guys are just chatty and ‘Whatever.’”
Duggan, and Saul’s dad, Michael Zur-Szpiro, “If people come to see a show,” says Luke,
respectively, began adding rhythm-guitar and “why not give it to them?”
harmonica duties. John, a child of the ’60s, I ask what they’re thinking about before
grew up on Invasion bands like the Stones going onstage.
and Kinks, as well as the Jam, Sex Pistols, Luke: “I’m usually thinking ‘What am I
the Clash, the Pretenders, and Motown and having for dinner?’”
Stax records. Harp player Michael prefers the Jim breaks a his long silence. “Every band
Stones and Chicago blues—especially Muddy has their own format for warming up, but Jack
Waters. Unsurprisingly, he and Susan grew and Luke especially like to run up and down.”
up listening to many of the bands Saul cites “Jump up and down,” says Jack.
as influences, though he’s also into American “We were playing in Spain,” Jim continues,
indie-folk outfit Beirut, and Baltimore dream- “and they were running up and down a
pop duo Beach House. He’s also careful courtyard. That’s always about half an hour
to point out a crucial, behind-the-scenes before a gig, isn’t it?”

influence that often gets overlooked. “I tend to think in terms of how the

S Signature Series
“Without Susan this band wouldn’t show might go,” Jack adds, “and about some
happen,” he says matter-of-factly, adding with positive messages as well—like, ‘Thank you for
a chuckle. “She gets the gigs, keeps them coming, you’re a great audience.’”
together, and imposes the discipline she’s failed “Saul is just dying to perform,” says Susan.
to impose on me over 40 years. We’re both too “As soon as they’ve done a gig, he wants to
old to rock and roll but we’re also too young know when the next one’s going to be. He

to die, so this is how we live. We live through just loves being onstage. Sometimes he’s not

Guitar Potenti
these young kids and make great music.” in very good health and he’ll arrive at a venue
looking green, exhausted—like he doesn’t have
A Foreign Concept an ounce of energy—but get him behind the
One thing Susan never has to worry about as drum kit, and it brings him back to life.”
she keeps the AutistiX train on the tracks is
whether lack of confidence will derail things Time to Jam
once the band hits the stage. “People tend As our video call pushes past the 70-minute
to ask us about stage fright,” she says, “but mark, I witness first-hand the sort of
that’s one of the things that we have never, anticipation Susan speaks of. The call has
ever experienced with the band—whether it’s gone longer than expected, and Saul seems
a small gig of 40 people or over a thousand. increasingly antsy to head into the other room,
They just love to perform.” sit behind his black four-piece Pearl kit, and
I ask them what their secret is. Luke is first get working on tunes he and his bandmates—
to answer. his family, his friends for life—will be
“Well, I would like to say a lot of alcohol.” performing live in a couple of days. PDB241-SOTL1-504A3 PDB241-SOTL2-504A3
Susan quickly cuts in, “It’s not—he doesn’t It’s been one of the most fulfilling for Volume Control for Volume Control
drink.” interviews of my career, and I close with a Knurled shaft Plain shaft
“I’d like to say that….” sincere thank you to the close-knit group 500 kΩ 500 kΩ
“That’s my answer,” Jim says dryly. sitting before me in a comfy-looking rustic
“I think they just don’t have a sense of kitchen some 4,000 miles away.
being judged,” Susan explains. “Whether Naturally, Luke doesn’t miss a beat.
they’re alone in a room or on a stage, the “You’re welcome. Some people say that before
rewards are kind of the same.” you can judge someone, you have to walk a mile
“I think when I’m onstage it’s living proof in their shoes. Do this and then you’ll be a mile
that, even if you are the kind of person who away—and you’ll also have their shoes.”

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 145


Free Your Mind and Your Bass Will Follow


The sound of a n previous columns, I’ve talked about More importantly, he made a sound I was
perfectly tuned using the phrasing and musicality unable to make. I took away the lesson
exhaust soothes
of drummers and guitarists when that inspiration can be found anywhere
my soul. Dave
Grohl has said gathering inspiration for creating a bass from anyone, regardless of skill or
he gets some line. There is certainly a huge number experience level.
of his best song of great, solo bassists on YouTube, but I assume I have lots of fellow
ideas during I think a lot of young bassists might be musicians who are motor heads—maybe
motorcycle rides.
limiting themselves by only listening bassists especially. The obsession for
to and learning from other bassists. In me mostly extends to motorcycles.
order for you to be the best and most The sound of a perfectly tuned exhaust
tasteful bassist possible, it’s important to soothes my soul, especially when I’m
listen to other musicians to develop all not performing for several days. There the best ever. I am completely amazed by
the necessary tools for becoming a great are many variations of precisely tuned the amount of creativity and attention to
accompanist. I elaborated on this in a exhaust sounds, but, not surprisingly, I detail when it comes to melody writing
column a few months ago [“Developing prefer one with large amounts of sub lows in today’s pop. For an electric bassist, isn’t
Your Solo Voice,” June 2015]. Inspiration and not much noise in the higher register. that inspiration in a very strange place,
for me, however, doesn’t end there. This When the “motorcycle bass” sounds just since most of the music is programmed?
month, I’m going to share a few examples right—which usually means rolling down Perhaps, but I don’t care.
of events and sounds that have inspired a hill using the motor for a little bit of Most of the music I’m talking about
me to play bass or play bass differently. braking at low RPMs—the aural pleasure comes from female artists and, yes, they
During my late teens and early of that engine rumbling is hard to match. are co-writers on a large amount of the
20s, I had the fortune to work as an The sound shakes my body from the songs. The vocal melodies from artists
instructor for young kids in rock bands. sheer amount of low end, not from like Katy Perry, Tove Lo, Haim, Ariana
(If I remember correctly, the ages of my volume. Heaven! Grande, and the lesser-known Foxes
students ranged from 9 to 13.) As tired as This feeling is physically similar to the and Bonnie McKee blow me away. The
I was at the end of a teaching day, I often one I get when I play standing right in melodies are simple, but absolutely not
left inspired by the sheer energy of the front of an Ampeg 8x10, or when I step plain. It’s obvious each note has been
kids. More than anything, I was inspired out front far enough onstage to where labored over. The incredible hookiness of
by some of the sounds they were making. I feel the subs of the PA. It triggers an these melodies is essentially what I want
I remember an 11-year-old who endorphin kick, based on almost violent in a bass line. As bassists, I think we
played some kind of short-scale, very amounts of low end, that must stem from should all strive for the accessibility and
inexpensive P-style model. He barely some caveman instinct. The mechanical immediacy of pop-classic bass lines found
knew how to even pluck the strings. In chugging of a motor reminds me of Larry in “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “Billie Jean,” or
his inexperience, however, he was able to Graham’s bass line on Sly & the Family “Like a Virgin.” Those bass lines are all
produce a sound that blew me away. He Stone’s classic “Everyday People,” where from the ’80s, but their melodies are on
played with his fingers, but his nails were that root note going on for minutes on par with those found in female pop lead
very long—something you don’t often end with few variations delivers a primal vocals right now.
see with bassists. The tiny prepubescent sensation. Regardless of what it is, it Inspiration can absolutely be found in
kid miraculously had enough teenage- inspires me. Those rumbling sounds the strangest places, even if they happen
style angst that he managed to play his shake things up in my creative mind. to be very mainstream. There really is
bass harder and more violently than And I’m not alone: Dave Grohl has said no substitute for an open mind when
most grown-up heavy metal guys. This he gets some of his best song ideas during looking for your next great—or even
force—combined with his lack of proper motorcycle rides. historic—bass line.
technique and his long nails—brought Lots of musicians who aren’t
a zinging sound out of the strings I had necessarily young anymore tend to VICTOR BRODÉN is a Nashville
bassist and producer who has
never heard before. I guess you could complain about “music nowadays.” It’s a toured and recorded with more
call it a bastardized version of John whining phenomenon that occurs with than 25 major-label artists,
including LeAnn Rimes, Richard
Entwistle’s tone, but it was truly unique. every generation reaching middle age. In Marx, Casting Crowns, and Randy
This guy had “played” bass for only a my case, I puzzle people when I claim Houser. You can reach him at
few weeks, but he taught me something. the current state of pop music is possibly


Decoding Fender’s Greasebucket and TBX Circuits


Fig. 1: n recent columns we’ve been 1
A pair of pots Fig. 1
exploring passive tone systems—
how they work, what they do, and
with the
Greasebucket what they don’t do. Now we’re about to
circuit. The same challenge some basic misconceptions many
values are used bassists have as a result of reading what
for either guitar could be described as marketing jargon.
or bass.
Let’s recap: We’ve learned that a
Photo 1: passive circuit can only reduce parts of
Fender’s TBX the tonal spectrum and not add to it.
circuit comes in Still, some descriptions suggest otherwise.
two versions—
For example, to describe their popular
one for guitar,
the other for passive Greasebucket circuit, Fender
bass. The latter states that it “rolls off highs without
uses a bigger adding bass.” This implies that one of the When we use a passive tone control to roll
capacitor, which
results in
circuit’s special features is that it doesn’t off treble frequencies, the midrange and bass remain
add bass, while other passive circuits do.
a smaller low-
The fact is, the others don’t either.
unaffected, but they become more prominent in the
end cutoff.
Using words to describe tone is always resulting mix as the highs disappear.
tricky, and if we encounter a statement like
“rolls off highs without adding bass,” we adjusting these ranges separately. That such systems, it’s easy to learn how to
need to learn how to decode its meaning. said, this Fender circuit with its integrated interpret these statements.
When we use a passive tone control to roll operation has its fans among low-enders. The TBX incorporates a stacked
off treble frequencies, the midrange and The Greasebucket was introduced in double pot (Photo 1). The electronic
bass remain unaffected, but they become 2005, and it’s still found in today’s Fender values of its components have changed
more prominent in the resulting mix as American Special Jazz Bass. The circuit over the years, but the principle has
the highs disappear. We may perceive the has a somewhat similar ancestor: Fender’s remained the same. Currently the stacked

Fig. 1: Wiring diagram courtesy of Seymour Duncan (seymourduncan.com) Photo 1: Diagram courtesy of singlecoil.com
signal as sounding deeper, but in no way TBX tone control, which stands for 250k/1M pot has a center detent with a
does it have more bass than before. Treble Bass Expander. The passive TBX is “no-load” position in the middle, and the
What does the Greasebucket circuit installed on the Duff McKagan Precision circuit includes an 82k-ohm resistor and
(Fig. 1) offer that sets it apart from a Bass, and it’s also available in kit form to a .022 µF or .033 µF capacitor for the
standard passive treble-cut control? It’s replace a standard treble-cut filter. guitar or bass version, respectively.
basically a combination of a variable low- Once again, “expand” makes it sound As usual, the cap determines the cutoff
pass filter—our typical tone pot—and a like the circuit would add something, but frequency, while the resistor prevents the
high-pass filter that cuts the lows. So if like the Greasebucket, it doesn’t. Here’s bass side from going to absolute zero.
we were to rewrite that previous phrase how Fender describes the TBX: “This The stock values are known to work well
to say the circuit cuts everything but detented, stacked 250k/1 Meg control for bass, but as always, it’s easy and fun
the mids, we’d have a far more accurate enhances your tonal palette without the to experiment with others. Because the
description of what’s going on. use of a battery. From 0 to 5, the TBX is TBX is a passive device, your particular
Our guitar colleagues use the your standard tone control, but once you pickups affect how the circuit behaves,
Greasebucket circuit to eliminate pass 5 you start to decrease the resistance, so there’s plenty of opportunity to be
muddiness in a distorted sound. which allows more bass, treble, presence creative and fine-tune a TBX control to
But because bassists prowl the lower and output to flow to your amp.” your instrument.
frequencies, we’re more likely to prefer Despite the words “more treble, bass,
a separate control for the bass range presence,” the TBX simply works as a HEIKO HOEPFINGER is a
German physicist and long-time
instead of having a combined cut on treble cut in one direction and a bass cut bassist, classical guitarist, and
both ends. Much like the switchable bass/ in the other. Of course, Fender is not motorcycle enthusiast. His work
on fuel cells for the European
treble cut we investigated in “Exploring alone in trying to depict passive circuits orbital glider Hermes led him to
Passive Tone Controls” in the December this way, but as long as you keep in mind form BassLab (basslab.de)—a
manufacturer of monocoque
2015 issue, there are simple solutions for that adding frequencies is impossible with guitars and basses.


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Conserving Energy

Are we in the he energy I have in my early 30s
“Golden Age” is fleeting on my best days—
of pedals? If
spread thin between ventures and
so, how best to
embrace it? responsibilities, my dreams and hobbies,
and even the responsibilities, dreams, and
desires of those closest to me. I need and
want to help with those, too.
And then there’s what everybody else
in the world is doing. Which, I think, is
what this article is about. Maybe you’ll
get a brief glimpse into a guitar pedal
company owner’s brain and thought
process, as scattered and full of bullshit as
it may be.
Us and them. It’s easy in this industry
to think about what everyone else is doing
and be affected by it—make decisions
because of it, have hurt feelings or a
sense of encroachment based on previous
products, ideas, or marketing. It all feels “I don’t want to spend precious energy worrying about,
like fair game to find offense. We mostly critiquing, or mentally fighting what other companies do.”
know each other. We at least have a sense
of our peers’ backgrounds: if they’re a new design and principle: to keep food cold. harsh about what other manufacturers are
kid, if they’re a seasoned veteran, if they’ve Some people prefer one fridge over putting out? Or upset that I didn’t come
made some good decisions or made some another. Maybe it’s the brand, maybe it’s up with the same idea, or that maybe it’s
questionable moves. an additional feature, maybe it makes ice close to an idea I had, executed or not?
Most of those judgments are quicker, colder, or in different shapes. Or do I try to see these pedals and toys as
subjective. How I see one manufacturer Stupid analogy, sure, but there are a lot of innovations and exciting developments?
varies from the next. This is a huge part pedal makers out there coming up with It’s a big struggle, but celebrating cool
of my business that has nothing to do good, innovative ideas and getting their things that others made is how I want to
with my company, products, or sales. ideas made and into the hands of players. expend my energy.
Or it could, because I have that choice. That’s great. We seem to be in the I’m working on this in myself—to
And here’s the juice: I don’t want to “Golden Age” of pedals. I’ve heard that not react to what other companies do,
spend precious energy worrying about, said. I don’t want to believe it, because I to not revel in their perceived failures
critiquing, or mentally fighting what think the age that comes after “Golden” or be bitter about their perceived
other companies do. As a consumer is usually pretty dismal. And that’s my successes. Sure, it’s all business and we’re
and pedal user/hoarder/appreciator, I future. Bummer. all competing, but I use pedals, too.
would much rather be excited about the Accentuate the positive. As I write, Mostly not even the ones I make. It is the
next great pedal or improvement on an I’m in the midst of the holiday takeover, “Golden Age,” after all. Why not share
existing pedal. I want people I know to fielding a Black Friday sales stretch into in the excitement? Put the positivity out
create something awesome. And then I the bulk of late December. So now we there. Let other companies be responsible
want to play it. scramble. We build. We organize. We for their decisions and I’ll be responsible
I’ve been fighting off this example the build. We sleep a little. We build. And for mine. I have the energy for that.
last couple of weeks when thinking about hopefully we ship everything in time for
this article, but go with me, because I people to be happy. Then we sleep a lot. BRADY SMITH is the cofounder
of Old Blood Noise Endeavors
couldn’t squelch it. Let’s take an appliance If you’re reading this column at the and the Coffee & Riffs video
Photo by Mark Elliott

that almost everyone uses—a refrigerator. end of January or beyond, all of the new series, as well as a part time
guitar tech. Despite his
Fridges have been in homes since 1913. pedals and musical toys have been rolled deteriorating posture, he has a
So there have been a lot of fridge makers out at NAMM. When that happens, do strong affinity for Jazzmasters
and Aluminum necked guitars.
and many improvements upon the initial I get jealous, petty, nitpicky, critical, or And coffee. And sleep.

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that fills the room with searing leads, funky rhythms and raucous
riffs…the rich, full-bodied tone of a maple body matched with
Classic Elite humbucker pickups.

Artco Vintage now combines that famous warm Artcore tone
with the cool vintage vibe of a smoky, gently distressed, low
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its seen more gigs than it can remember. Worn, ragged and
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Whether you’re playing rock, country, jazz or blues, Artcore Vintage

delivers classic vintage tone and appearance
that’s both tried and true well before its time.



RJM Music Carl Martin
Mastermind PBC Octa-Switch MK3

Boss ES-8

PG tests three pedal switchers that can add organization

and oodles of options to your stomping experience.

e treasure our pedals for reordered, and reconfigured. Then effects switching and MIDI connectivity
the unique tone shaping there’s the issue of on-the-fly switching. that help maximize the potential of the
capabilities they give us—for Unless you’re capable of Houdini- pedals that are already the foundation of
the individuality they lend to our sounds meets-Baryshnikov contortions you’ll your sound.
and music. We also get so attached to never be able to switch on five pedals For this roundup, we check out three
those little buggers that it can be hard to simultaneously. of the latest switchers: the Carl Martin
consider alternatives. Pedal switchers make such magic Octa-Switch MK3, Boss ES-8, and
Such sentimental attachments can tricks as easy as pressing a single RJM Mastermind PBC. They cover a
make a pedal collection less than the sum switch. Many switchers eliminate the fairly wide spectrum in terms of cost,
of its parts. For one thing, an in-series limitations of in-series pedal setups by functionality, and design emphasis. But
pedal set up is inherently limited in enabling the creation of unique pedal each offers the opportunity to relate the
relation to the possible sounds that set sequences via switchable loops. Some pedals you already love in ways you may
of pedals can make when reshuffled, also offer features like amp channel/ never have considered or expected.

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 153

Mastermind PBC
RJM Music Technology is best known internal mixer so you can route pedals
for rack switching devices, and players in series or parallel. The Mastermind
from Beck to Billie Joe Armstrong to PBC can also be configured for a stereo
John Petrucci all use the company’s setup or for A/B routing to different
RJM Music Mastermind PBC
high-end systems. The new Mastermind amps. I took advantage of the latter
$999 street
PBC, however, shrinks RJM’s rack option and connected one end to my rjmmusic.com
mount technology into a compact format shimmery clean blackface Fender Deluxe
designed to fit on a pedalboard and be Reverb and the other to my Mesa/ Tones
more accessibly priced to players without Boogie Trem-O-Verb. It was a pairing
Ease of Use
Learjet budgets. made in heaven.
The U.S.-built Mastermind PBC Build/Design
There is room to store up to 768
is ostensibly a control station for your presets so it’s very unlikely you’ll run Value
pedals, but it can do much more than out of space. The readout is sizeable
that—certainly more than we can cover but not too huge—the right balance of PROS Excellent, versatile design. C

in this review. The unit features 10 loops compact and easy on the eyes. There’s USB editing option greatly increases
with insert points in between groups, even a built-in tuner (although there’s
which offers copious routing options. no dedicated tuner out on the back CONS A little pricey. Editor has a
You can even run some pedals straight panel). Other standout features are USB moderate learning curve.

into the amp and others through your connectivity, a flash storage option, and MY

amp’s effects loop. PBC Editor (for use on a Mac or PC). CY

RJM clearly considered just about One of my biggest gripes with anything intuitive. It took a little bit of time
every scenario pedal junkies are likely multi-effects related is scrolling through to get my bearings, and I think many
to face. So the Mastermind PBC offers screens to adjust every little parameter. guitarists coming from a world of analog K

simple solutions for the most common The PBC Editor gives you much more pedals will have the same experience.
problems. While the unit is true bypass, control over the Mastermind’s internal Successfully navigating the editor comes
there are three switchable buffers that control parameters. with a significant payoff, however. The
can be saved as part of any given preset. Though downloading and hooking level of control is astounding, especially
The last four loops, meanwhile, have an up the editor is easy, it’s not immediately if you use MIDI capable pedals like the
Strymon TimeLine or Mobius, or the
Line 6 M series. The sound sculpting
potential opened up by the editor and the
seamless way it will interface with MIDI
pedals is enormous.
At $999 street, the Mastermind PBC
is the priciest switcher in our roundup,
but there’s little sticker shock when you
realize how much it can do and the
exponential way in which it expands
the possibilities of your rig. It’s perfectly
suited for a professional touring musician.
But the sound shaping possibilities
and the excellent MIDI and digital
workstation interfacing options could
just as easily make it the centerpiece of a
home recording rig.

I’ve owned several Boss multi-effects is, and here you can access saved loop
units over the years and have always been combinations via 100 banks that provide
impressed with how configurable and a total of 800 presets.
adaptable they tend to be. Boss’ emphasis At times, you might wonder why Boss ES-8
on practical, real-world utility and user there are so many preset options—
$699 street
friendliness remains intact in the ES-8. particularly given how easy the Boss Boss.info
And it offers a ton of flexibility at a very makes it to add effects to existing
reasonable price. presets on the fly. Nevertheless, the Tones
At a glance, the ES-8 looks like a flexibility afforded by all these options is
Ease of Use
compact multi-effects unit. But there’s a impressive. And given the Boss’ ability
lot of functionality jammed into a little to delve into nuances like effects trails
package. The back panel almost looks and series and parallel routing (the latter Value

like a studio patch bay for all the jacks feature in particular can really open up
crammed onto such a small space. All new possibilities for your old effects), PROS Incredible control options. Great
value. High quality.
told there’s—count ’em—33 1/4" jacks you might start crafting presets in the
and a pair of MIDI in/out jacks. There hundreds before you know it! CONS Small screen. Preset readouts
are eight send/return jacks (the seventh Thankfully, the Boss is pretty easy to could be more descriptive.
provides mono send and stereo return, program and edit. Changes in pedal order
and the eighth offers stereo send and are represented on the loop structure
return), control jacks to let you switch screen, which provides a very simple means you’ll need a pretty good memory,
amp channels and turn on reverb, jacks numeric representation of the pedal a thorough system of organization, or a
for connecting expression pedals, and a order. Boss has always excelled at creating lot of practice to navigate a deep library
plethora of additional connections. With these kinds of simple interfaces and, in a of presets—but that goes for most loopers
that many I/Os, real estate is at a pedal that can be as complicated as the this complex.
premium so it’s vital to use straight ES-8, it does wonders in streamlining The Boss is thoughtful at the nuts
1/4" cables. programming and easing the learning and bolts level, too. Buffers can be
Manual mode lets you turn pedals curve. One shortcoming of the readout is turned on and off for each input to
on and off just like you would on a that it does not reveal the order of pedals compensate for pedals like old wahs
conventional pedalboard. Memory when you select the preset itself. You can and fuzzes that are particular about
mode, however, is where the real action only see the order in edit mode. That their positions relative to buffered
switches. Better still, these settings can
be stored for each preset. It’s a small
detail, but it eliminates a lot of the
headaches that would ordinarily come
with switching pedal order. MIDI
capability is useful in cool ways, too. I
especially liked the Master BPM, which
enables you to assign tempo parameters
for compatible effects in a given patch.
There are many switchers on the
market, but outside of custom-built units
that cost thousands more than the ES-8’s
$699 street, you’d be hard pressed to get
this level of control over your entire rig at
this appealing price.

Octa-Switch MK3
Although the Octa-Switch MK2 is still The MK3 has a decidedly mechanical,
fresh in our memory, Carl Martin recent- analog feel—largely due to the absence of
ly released the streamlined MK3 edition. a readout and the eight dipswitches above
The MK3 is more pedalboard- each preset footswitch. The dipswitches Carl Martin Octa-Switch MK3
friendly, utilizing two rows of correspond to the eight send/returns and
$427 street
footswitches. More functions are stuffed the pedal; you route through them. I’m carlmartin.com
into less space, yet the jacks are still not a huge fan of dipswitches, but here
spaced out enough to patch in the right- the design is more intuitive, and arguably Tones
angle plugs used for most pedalboard faster, than scrolling through a small screen. Ease of Use
applications. (I wasn’t able to do this On the top corner of the control panel are
with the other two switchers in this eight small blue LEDs that correspond to
roundup.) loops 1-8 and light up to show which loop
I was surprised when I opened the is activated on a selected preset. There are
box and didn’t see a power supply. But also two rows of dipswitches for external PROS Great value. Incredibly easy to use.
the Octa-Switch MK3 is compatible switching of amp channels or amp reverb.
CONS Lack of MIDI. No way to virtually
with a standard 9V adapter, and I just These, too, can be assigned to work with a assign pedal order.
daisy chained it to my pedalboard’s selected loop.
existing power supply. (Unlike the MK2, It took me about a minute to program
the MK3 can’t be powered by batteries.) a relatively simple rig consisting of a amp’s clean channel and an Ibanez TS-9
The MK3 offers eight loops (the Mesa/Boogie Trem-O-Verb and several used as a boost going into the amp’s high
last loop is stereo) and eight banks— pedals. For a rhythm preset, I used a gain channel. I also used a Boss TU-2,
which should be more than enough for Boss CE-2 and Ibanez AD-9 going into though, oddly, there is no dedicated tuner
most players. In addition to the eight the amp’s clean channel. For leads, I out on the MK3. The presets all worked
loop footswitches, there’s a switch for created two presets—a Mad Professor flawlessly and switching was immediate
bypassing the unit completely. Bluebird overdrive/delay going into the and pop free.
Though it may lack some fancy digital
features, the MK3 is capable of much
more than just switching pedals on and
off. You can use it as a killer A/B switcher
to route two guitars into two separate
amps, with each pair attached to its own
group of effects. Just bypass the standard
in/out controls and patch everything
through the loop jacks.
Mechanical simplicity is a beautiful
thing. The MK3’s intuitive design means
neophytes can get started fast without
consulting a manual. These days many
switchers are as complex as a multi-
effects unit, but the MK3’s what-you-
see-is-what-you-get layout cuts through
frivolities. This bad boy lets you program
configurations you’ll actually need rather
than bog you down with hypothetical
possibilities you’ll never actually use.

you’ll never
see it coming!

With its stealthy versa-mount base and fold-flat design, the new
DeltaLab Ninja Tuner instantly provides quick and simple instrument
tuning. And when you’re done, just flip it back and it becomes
nearly invisible to your audience. Its auto on/off feature makes it
ridiculously easy to use and its detachable 360° swivel cup allows
for use on other instruments. Ninja is completely safe for most poly
and nitro finishes* and includes a handy visual metronome, low-
battery indicator, and traditional clip-on base.
*Not recommended for vintage or “checked” instrument finishes

Available exclusively at:


Dealing with Knobs and Pots


his month we’ll discuss some the hole, and then thread on the hex nut popular knobs while
typical pitfalls you might and gently tighten it down. they’re being drilled.
encounter when replacing pots or You can customize a guitar by replacing Consider the opposite
knobs on your guitar. its stock knobs with new ones. But it’s dilemma: You want to install a
The first scenario is a hot topic in tricky to install knobs designed for solid- U.S. solid-shaft knob on a metric
guitar repair shops worldwide: installing shaft pots onto a split-shaft pot. Let’s say solid-shaft pot—Tele dome knobs on an
U.S. pots (measured in inches) in a you want to put T-style dome knobs on a Epiphone Les Paul, for example. In this
guitar that sports metric electronics. For Strat, but you want to keep the Strat’s stock scenario, the hole in the knob is too big
example, Epiphone guitars have a very split-shaft pots. Typically knobs for solid- for the shaft. No worries: You can buy
good build quality, but they often suffer shaft pots use a setscrew to fasten them a brass sleeve developed for this specific
from poor electronics, so replacing the to the shaft. If you put this type of knob purpose. Slide it onto the metric shaft and
stock metric pots with high-quality U.S. on split-shaft pots and tighten the screw the U.S. knob will fit perfectly.
CTS pots will be a real upgrade. The improperly, you can break one or both Ever tried to install a metric push-on
problem is the holes in the guitar are too halves of the shaft (Photo 1). knob on a U.S. split-shaft pot or vice
small and the U.S. pots will not fit. The There are two ways to prevent this. versa? Perhaps you want to put an Ibanez
solution is to enlarge the holes from 8 The quick solution is to position the Strat-style push-on knob on your beloved
mm to 9.5 mm (3/8"). This sounds easy, setscrew in the gap between the shaft’s Fender U.S. Strat, but it won’t go on.
but it isn’t! two halves and tighten it very carefully. The problem is that U.S. push-on knobs
Never try to enlarge a hole in a guitar The pro solution is to fabricate a piece have 24 “fine knurled” teeth, while metric
or pickguard with your handheld drill of wood or plastic that slips precisely knobs have 18 “coarse knurled” teeth. The
and standard drill bit. Instead, the quick- into the gap between the two halves. In only thing you can do is fine tune the fit
and-dirty solution is to use a sharp, fine- the shop we use a piece of nylon that’s by squeezing the shafts together slightly or
tooth round or half-round wood file to already the correct thickness, so it’s spreading them further apart. This works,
carefully enlarge the hole. Don’t worry simply a matter of cutting out a piece of but requires finesse.
if the hole isn’t perfectly circular—the the right height and width to fill the gap. Our final piece of the knob-pot
washer will mask your dirty little secret. We use super glue to hold this gap-filling puzzle happens when you attempt to
The professional solution? Use a sharp piece in place and trim off the excess with install a push-on knob on a solid-shaft
handheld reamer. It’ll only take about 20 a sharp knife and file. pot, like putting plastic Strat knobs
seconds to enlarge each hole. Perhaps you want to install a knob on a Tele. First, use a Dremel tool or a
You may also face the opposite designed for metric solid-shaft pots onto a small round file to bore out the insert
scenario of wanting to install metric pots U.S. solid-shaft pot. We run into this quite of the push-on knob until it fits on
in a guitar with stock U.S. electronics. often when we put metal Schaller knobs the straight shaft. Then get a setscrew
Most military-spec pots and switches are on a U.S.-made Tele. Schaller hardware is designed for dome knobs (they’re sold as
made in Europe or Israel and are excellent beautifully machined, but all their knobs spare parts), measure it with your digital
for guitars. They’re available in the are metric. A metric knob usually has a 6 caliper or micrometer, choose a drill bit
typical 250k and 500k values and several mm hole, but the solid shaft on a U.S. pot that’s slightly smaller, and carefully drill
bushing lengths, but they all have metric measures .250" (6.35 mm), so the hole through one side of the knob. Put the
bushing diameters. needs to be enlarged. knob on the pot and gently tighten the
Sometimes mil-spec pots have a This requires a drill press. Put a sharp setscrew against the solid shaft. Done!
bushing diameter of 10 mm, which .250" countersink bit intended for metal Next month we’ll explore the last of
makes them a bit too big for the 3/8" into your drill press and slowly enlarge our Les Paul “master wirings.” Until then
holes in the pickguard or body. If that’s the hole, being careful not to drill ... keep on modding!
the case, go fetch the reamer. However, through the top of the knob. Here’s the
most mil-spec pots have an 8 mm trick: You also have to secure the knob to DIRK WACKER lives in Germany
Photo courtesy of singlecoil.com

bushing diameter, so your 3/8" holes keep it perfectly vertical, and you can’t do and has been a guitar addict since
age 5. He’s also a hardcore DIY-er
are too large by 1.5 mm. The solution this by simply holding it. In the shop we for guitars, amps, and stompboxes
is simple: First slip a lock washer on the use a vise grip covered with a thick layer and runs a website on the subject
(singlecoil.com). When not
shaft and then install the pot. After the of foam rubber to protect the knob from working at his guitar workbench,
he plays country, rockabilly, surf,
shaft pokes through the 3/8" hole, add a getting scratched. We also use wooden and flamenco. Contact him at
plain washer that’s big enough to cover blocks with holes sized to hold our most info@singlecoil.com..


If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Break It!


sually I answer questions
submitted by astute Premier 1
Guitar readers, but this month
I’m going to focus on a Supro Super
1606 (Photo 1) owned by a good friend
of mine, Bobby. He brought it to me in
non-functioning condition and asked if
I could get it working again. “Well, of
course,” was my reply, “but depending
on what has failed, it may not come
back as exactly the same amp you’ve
come to know and love.” I say this to
all my customers because changing any
component in an amp has the potential
to affect the way it sounds or feels.
Sometimes it’s not noticeable and other
times it can have a substantial impact.
I especially warn customers who want
to have an amp’s filter caps changed just
as a preventative measure. “I really, really
love this amp,” they’ll say, “but it has
a bunch of years on it and I think it’s
time to have the filter caps replaced.” My 2
response is always, “Well, if you really,
really love this amp and it’s not giving
you any problems related to the power
supply, I suggest you continue to enjoy it
the way it is.”
Now, there are arguments for changing
the caps as a preventative measure, such
as a touring situation where reliability is
paramount, but in general my thinking
is: If it ain’t broke, don’t break it. While
a change may bring the amp closer to
what it was when it was built, it’s more 3
than likely that creature won’t be the amp
you’re currently in love with.
But back to Bobby—he just wanted
the amp repaired. His father had given
him this ultra-portable combo, and it’s
Bobby’s go-to amp when he needs to sit
down and learn a new song. Best of all,
he swears that with his Tele he gets a very
cool Led Zeppelin sound. That’s entirely
possible, since Pagey supposedly tracked
most of the band’s debut album with WARNING:
a Tele and a Supro (albeit a markedly All tube amplifiers contain lethal voltages. The most dangerous voltages are stored in
bigger model). electrolytic capacitors, even after the amp has been unplugged from the wall. Before
I asked Bobby if it would be okay to you touch anything inside the amp chassis, it’s imperative that these capacitors are
do a couple of minor tweaks once I’d discharged. If you are unsure of this procedure, consult your local amp tech.

To many companies, the skill of handwiring guitar
amplifiers is a forgotten art but not so at Marshall.
We revisited this traditional craft in the late ‘90s and
have been doing it ever since. We currently offer
seven authentic, handwired reissues of all-valve amps
that were originally crafted in this manner, including
the new 30 Watt 1962HW ‘Bluesbreaker’, the
2245THW ‘Bluesbreaker’ head, plus a pair of 18 Watt
stunners: the 2 x 10” 1958X and the 2 x 12” 1973X.

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repaired the amp. I explained I’d try to 4
improve the amp’s sound a bit without
taking away from its inherent character.
He gave me the go-ahead, and in the
process of doing these tweaks I made
a couple of interesting discoveries. For
the record, the cause of the failure was a
simple broken connection, so the repair
itself would in no way affect the amp’s
sonic identity.
The 5-watt Super 1606 has a 5Y3,
6V6, and 12AX7 tube configuration,
Magnetic Components transformers, and
a 6x9” Rola speaker (Photo 2). And there Fig. 1
are no tone controls—this is a one-knob
affair (Photo 3).
I went online to pull a quick
schematic, but to my surprise there
were none to be found for the Supro
Super Model 1606. Granted, there were
schematics for other amps that were
very close, but none for this particular
model, so I created one—complete with
transformer and speaker part numbers
(Fig. 1). It’s the only existing schematic
for this little amp that I know of!
What could I do for this Supro? Well,
there’s certainly not a whole lot to this
amp, and I didn’t want to do anything to it
that would chance pushing the little Rola
speaker into sonic meltdown. However, I
did notice something atypical. The input
stage on this amp was designed with a very
old-style method using what is known as strident. In other words, it just wasn’t as the high-end spikiness. Adding in the
grid bias—probably a cost-cutting measure, much fun to play. There was something cathode bypass cap helped bring the gain
as it eliminates one or two components. about the original design that was a bit back up, focusing a bit more on the lower
My thought was this could certainly softer or more compressed—more finger frequencies, giving the amp just a bit
be improved upon by implementing a friendly, if you will. more fullness on the bottom end. Perfect!
more standard cathode bias type of input So back to stock configuration it Well, there you have it. Sometimes
stage. To do this, I replace the 6.8M grid went. But I did like the rounder bottom mods don’t do what we expect them to
bias resistor with a more standard 1M, end the mod had created, so I tried one and an “improvement” isn’t. Now it’s time
lifted the tube’s cathode connection from more experiment. Could I use a cathode to give Bobby back his super Super.
ground, and installed a typical cathode bias configuration along with a grid bias
resistor and bypass capacitor configuration. to achieve the best of both worlds? The JEFF BOBER is one of the
Surely, I thought, this would improve answer was yes, and Photo 4 shows what godfathers of the low-wattage amp
revolution. He co-founded and was
the sound just a bit and my customer the mod looked like when I finished it. originally the principal designer
would be happier with the amp than he Adding the cathode bias resistor reduced for Budda Amplification, though
he launched EAST Amplification
had been before. I was wrong. While the the overall gain of the first stage a bit, (eastamplification.com) in 2010.
You can catch his podcasts at
amp did have a bit fuller bottom end, which was not necessarily a bad thing ampsandaxescast.com or email
the overall feel became colder and more since it helped to bring down a bit of him at pgampman@gmail.com.

Joaquin Lares Photography

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 165


Soundhole Pickups
This month we’ve rounded up a sampling of acoustic soundhole pickups. Some are passive, some are active,
and some are loaded with bells and whistles to help you amplify your treasured flattop.

The Black Angel
This quick-and-easy to install pickup was designed to
“hear” the entire range of an acoustic guitar from top to 1
bottom. The built-in phase switch makes the pickup a
good option for use in a dual- or multi-source system.
$164 street

California Acoustic
This slim and sleek pickup was designed to be extra quiet
yet still deliver high output. Features include a high- 2
quality cable, a Switchcraft endpin jack, and organic cork
in the clamping setup for guitar-finish protection.
$84 street

These sturdy handbuilt pickups have individually adjustable
pole pieces. A unique feature allows the pickup to couple
and sense the body resonance and top of the guitar it’s
mounted in, and still maintain a 116 dB feedback threshold.
$294 street
sunrisepickups.com 4
Rare Earth Blend
This system combines an active humbucking pickup with
a miniature electret microphone. An easy-to-reach blend
control allows a player to dial in the desired mic/pickup
blend for a warm, natural tone.
$309 street
The M80’s secret is a free-floating humbucking coil that’s
also a 3-D body sensor. Includes passive or active operation,
adjustable poles, volume control, and battery check.
$249 street

ProMag Plus
This single-coil pickup in maple housing is balanced at
the factory for optimal string balance, easily installs to
fit virtually all standard acoustics, and delivers a natural
sound with a smooth, high-end response.
$44 street

The Bone
This alnico 5 drop-in pup boasts high output, includes a

7 14-foot cable with a George L jack (can also be wired to

an endpin jack), and comes in a variety of wood options.
$120 street

This soundhole system features wireless operation up to
30 meters, an onboard tuner, a mini-USB in for charging

8 the battery, and dials for volume, bass/treble, and

panorama to fine-tune the PanaMag’s stereo sound.
$499 street

Aka the “Silencer,” this pickup is balanced for bronze-wound
9 strings, delivering natural sound at high volume without
feedback. The shielded pickup mounts instantly, has a
volume control, and comes with a 12-foot low-loss cable.
$49 street

Acoustic Tube SA-1
This passive, humbucking stack has flexible mounts
for quick installation, and an easy access volume dial.
10 Feedback resistant, with crisp high-end detail and scooped
mids for a smooth overall response.
$69 street

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 167


Quick Hits
Vibe Machine V-1 RC-Booster SH
By Shawn Hammond By Jason Shadrick

The guys at DryBell in Croatia For the better part of a decade,

are nothing if not hardcore—their the RC Booster by Xotic has
sole product so far, the V-1 chorus/ pleased many 6-stringers who like
vibrato, took four years to develop. some hair on their boost. A new
Like the original Shin-ei/Univox collaboration with fusion guru
Uni-Vibe, it features four photocells, Scott Henderson has created the
though the enclosure is smaller. RCB-SH, a dual-channel version
Painstaking research identified of the flagship pedal. For as much
common traits of stellar Uni-Vibe tonal ground that was crammed
specimens and led to a proprietary into the RCB, Xotic didn’t add
matching technology that measures much in the way of controls. With an additional footswitch
18 (and counting) photocell parameters. An exclusive cell- and a mini knob, a two-headed beast was born.
sourcing partnership ensures every V-1 meets exacting specs. Henderson had a few goals with his namesake stomp,
The meticulous standards pay off, big time. The V-1 and high on that list was transparency and better note
doesn’t just serve up delightfully warm and swirly chorus definition. Spoiler: Mission accomplished. The blue channel
and subtle-to-disorienting vibrato with the granular is basically a transparent boost and is stunningly clear and
dimensionality vintage snobs crave. It comes incredibly warm. The amount of gain is similar to a Screamer, but
close to matching the supernatural magic of an old organ’s way more sensitive to attack—welcome additions for more
mechanical vibrato sound. And talk about extras: An dynamic players who shuffle between pick and fingers. The
expression-pedal input enables real-time control of speed, red channel, which has a separate gain control, walks that
internal jumpers let you engage a Leslie-style ramp-up/ramp- fine line between sweetly singing leads and over-the-top
down function and/or an output buffer, a bright/original saturation. On the gig, I pretty much left the blue channel on
switch caters to old-school and modern tone tastes, and three and flipped the red channel on for more soaring lead work.
trim pots let you tweak output volume and the range and Simply put, this pedal isn’t the equivalent of a heavy-handed
symmetry of the effect’s swell. A true home run. tonal facelift, but if your basic tone is already happening, the
RCB-SH can surely find a spot on your board.
TEST GEAR Eastwood Sidejack DLX Baritone w/Manlius
Goatmaster pickups, db Instrument Amp 4E expression pedal, TEST GEAR Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul Custom, Dr. Z
various pedals, Jaguar HC50 and Goodsell Valpreaux 21 combos Z-Lux, Fender Deluxe Reverb

PROS Gorgeously authentic PROS Wonderfully powerful

$295 direct, drybell.com vintage Uni-Vibe tones. Simple $168 street, xotic.us boost options. Harmonically
yet ingeniously flexible rich overdrive.
control set.
Tones Tones
CONS Could use more
Ease of Use CONS Ramping feature so Ease of Use definition in the bass control.
cool you’ll wish for a treadle-
Build/Design Build/Design
equipped housing.
Value Value

CLICK HERE TO HEAR this pedal at premierguitar.com/feb2016 CLICK HERE TO HEAR this pedal at premierguitar.com/feb2016

Bass Boot Comp HyperGravity Compressor
By Rich Osweiler By Charles Saufley

Compression isn’t the sexiest effect to talk Leave it to TC Electronic to deliver

about, but it’s a must-have (or should-have) an affordable pedal compressor with a
for many a bassist. A good compressor will twist. For the new Tone Print-enabled
even out dynamics and bring life to tone HyperGravity, they’ve borrowed the
for veteran players—it’s not just lipstick for algorithm from their System 6000
a less-than-awesome right-hand technique. studio multiband compressor. The
Japan’s Providence has recently jumped into the bass compression results often sound quite unlike any
game and loaned us their Bass Boot Comp for a look. other stomp comp.
Visually similar to the company’s 3-knob Velvet Comp, the The 6000 is the basis for the
Bass Boot Comp is a 5-knob affair that brings controls for mix HyperGravity’s Spectra digital
and threshold in addition to the level, sustain, and attack also multiband mode. TC touts its ability to enhance treble tones
found on the Velvet. The mix dial is especially nice since it and more effectively even the output of top and bottom
gives a player the power to blend the compressed sound with strings. It works—though sometimes nearly too well. I
the native signal. This provides a broader spectrum of tones love trebly, squashed compressors with heavy sustain for
and is a feature not always found on other compression pedals. electric 12-strings, but at times the high-end bloom nearly
The Bass Boot Comp did what it’s supposed to do well. overpowered the bass. I love this sound. Dogmatic twang
Rolling the attack almost all the way off, dialing the sustain fiends might not dig it.
to 10 o’clock, and the threshold to 2 o’clock, the pedal Less sustain equals more immediate attack and a more
worked as a limiter—ideal for slappers and heavy picking. I traditional combination of snap and squish. The wet/dry
got to a smoothly compressed and even fingerstyle tone by blend control—a fairly uncommon feature on stompbox
cranking the sustain, inching the threshold to 3 o’clock, and compressors—is useful for dialing out that tiny-bit-too-much
moving the attack to 11 o’clock. Speaking of sustain, it’ll do squish when you hear it. It also evens out the hot high end.
so for days with the dial in the upper region. The vintage mode is a tad darker than my Ross-derived
Providence pedals are a little pricey, but what you get comp, and found me wanting for a tone knob. But it works
in return here is a solid compressor that brings a bit more nicely with fuzz and sounded awesome with treble-heavy
control to the table than some others in its class. settings on a bright Vox amp.

TEST GEAR 1975 Epiphone Scroll, Gallien-Krueger 800RB head, TEST GEAR Squier J Mascis Jazzmaster, Rickenbacker 370-12, Vox
TC Electronic RS410 cab Pathfinder, Fender silverface Bassman w/ 2x12 cabinet.

PROS Easy to dial in. PROS Airy multiband sounds.

$199 street, providence-ltd.com Great sustain. Mix dial is a $129 street, tcelectronic.com Lively, round, and not-too-
nice feature. spikey trebles. Great sustain.

Tones Tones
CONS A touch pricey. CONS Vintage mode can be
Ease of Use Ease of Use very dark. Treble output can
overpower bass.
Build/Design Build/Design
Value Value

CLICK HERE TO HEAR this pedal at premierguitar.com/feb2016 CLICK HERE TO HEAR this pedal at premierguitar.com/feb2016

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 169


SE 277 Baritone
By Ted Drozdowski

e guitarists can get pretty low. (Should I tell the his tail. The current baritone guitar renaissance sparked in the
story about the time I played a pizza parlor in late 1980s, when metal outfits like Cannibal Corpse and Carcass,
Willimantic, Connecticut?) But starting in the and alt-rockers like Soundgarden and Deftones, began using
’90s, blooming re-interest in the baritone guitar made that an them to add growl, depth, and mystery to their arsenals of tone.
emotionally healthier proposition. By the time we were rolling
into the oughts, it seemed like everybody—from Korn to Dave Baris Conquer the World
Matthews—had baris in their hands. Today, baritone guitars are no longer novel. Open the door to
Baritones produce heavy, dark, dreamy, twangy tones and almost any bar, arena, or studio and there’s a good chance you’ll
have done so since the late 1950s when Duane Eddy grabbed see one being brandished—especially by club bands covering
a Dano example and cut “Rebel Walk”—with the Beach Boys modern metal hit-makers, from Metallica to Staind. And that’s
(“Dance, Dance, Dance”), spaghetti western soundtrack genius where PRS entered the game. Although the Maryland-based
Ennio Morricone, and Glenn Campbell (“Wichita Lineman”) on guitar maker had built custom one-offs for several artists before,

Dual humbuckers

Maple top

String-through bridge

Mahogany back


late ’60s Gibson feel with a bit more
broadness to the fretboard at it
The SE 277 is a humbucking six-string for all seasons, approaches the guitar’s maple-top-and-
and its standard three-way selector switch and single mahogany-back body. The SE 277 wears
tone pot unleash a bevy of sounds. comfortably around the human neck—
not too heavy, at less than 7 pounds—
and the guitar’s maple neck with
in 2008 it began production of the custom-built Sandora 18-watter with an rosewood top balances well, avoiding
Mike Mushok SE Baritone, a signature Eminence 50, the test model—a tobacco the downward tilt of some baritones.
model bearing the name of Staind’s sunburst-finished solidbody—was PRS’s usual bird inlays decorated the
lead guitarist. It had a solid mahogany superbly versatile and cut crisply through test model’s fretboard, and the tuners
slab body and humbuckers. When sonic mayhem with its bridge pickup. were sturdy and easy to turn. The guitar
that guitar’s run ended in 2014, PRS This do-it-all bari adapted to effects, arrived nearly in tune in a gig bag tucked
wanted to continue with baritones, of from radical modulation to demonic inside a cardboard shipping box, and
course, and the result is the humbucker- overdrive, like a hero, but stayed warm stayed that way even when I insisted on
rigged SE 277 and its cousin, the and smooth when plugged straight into playing in open D and E derived tunings.
semihollow SE 277, which comes with the clean-set amps. New-generation, (Slide baritone, anyone?)
soapbar single-coils. Both guitars have lower-output PRS Tone Furnace
a 27.7" neck scale length, providing the humbuckers, which are especially The Verdict
instrument with its designation. nurturing to mids, made the SE 277 Try as I might, I couldn’t find a dang
PRS chose the 27.7" scale for the more versatile than the company’s earlier thing wrong or even slightly unsatisfying
popular B-to-B baritone tuning (B-E– production-model baritone. Players with the PRS SE 277. It’s comfortable,
A–D–F#–B), leaving C-based tuning outside of the heavy rock realm took to fun, and easy to play; has a wide range
and other lower tunings to instruments requesting those guitars with a coil tap, of versatile, simple-to-control tones;
with longer scales. B-to-B and the 27.7" with a default setting wired to single-coil. and proved a gleeful partner in sonic
scale is welcoming to guitarists who A tone pot had to be pulled up to activate mayhem as well as a suave traditionalist.
have little experience with baritones, humbucking mode. But the SE 277 is a And hey, it’s really nice looking, too.
since the string size—the SE 277 came humbucking six-string for all seasons, and The SE 277 is more expensive than
gauged .014­–.068—and tension isn’t its standard three-way selector switch and some common baritone model guitars
radically different, and it’s easy to do single tone pot unleash a bevy of sounds. at a $749 street price, but there’s a lot of
the math with the usual chord shapes quality, versatility and charm—sonic and
and positions. The Usual, Please otherwise—attached to that sticker.
The build of any instrument from Paul
Lover, and a Biter Reed Smith hits a high bar for quality
While the Mushok model was a rock and playability, and the SE 277 falls
baritone at premierguitar.com/feb2016
machine, the SE 277 can do that and right in line. Its 22 frets are smooth and
more in all three of its pickup settings. comfortable for fast runs and bending,
Running through a Fender DeVille, a and beautifully tapered to the edges of
Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier with an the neck, which PRS describes as “wide
Eminence 50-watt speaker cab, and a fat,” but has a classic, smooth-tapered PRS SE 277 Baritone
$749 street


PROS Versatile low-output

humbuckers. Easy to play. Comfortable
weight. High-quality build.

CONS Pricier than some baritones.

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 171


5150 Overdrive
By Joe Charupakorn Smart Gate noise gate Three-band tone stack

XR’s Eddie Van Halen signature phaser, flanger, and
wah pedals made elements of Eddie’s tone available
and affordable to the masses. But one of the most
critical components in creating his “Brown Sound” is copious
amp overdrive. If you don’t have a vintage Marshall Super
+6 dB Boost
Lead or an EVH amp (both expensive propositions), the right
overdrive pedal is an effective shortcut. And the MOSFET-
driven MXR 5150 Overdrive—which was designed by Bob
Cedro with input from Mr. Van Halen himself—is a stab at
harnessing Eddie’s hot-rodded, high-gain sounds in a pedal.
That’s no mean feat, given that EVH has traditionally been
an amp overdrive dude. But the MXR often hits the mark
through the use of a flexible set of EQ, drive, and gating
controls—as well as a multi-gain-stage design that makes the
pedal versatile beyond strictly Eddie-centric applications.

Bigger Box, Bolder Sounds

The 5150 is reminiscent of MXR’s killer big box effects from Move the gain knob to noon and you’re squarely in the
the ’70s as well as the more recent MXR EVH-117 Flanger. It’s distortion camp—verging on the realms of Eddie’s storied
decked out in Eddie’s classic “racing stripe” livery. (Is it now in-your-face “Brown Sound.” Here, it’s hard to resist boogie-
possible to create an entire signal chain in this paint scheme? inflected moves like the lead riff for “Beautiful Girls.” Low,
If there isn’t a cable yet someone should get on it!) The control open-string chugs feel punchy and articulate, and the individual
panel features a common overdrive control set: output, bass, notes of chords ring true and clear, which does wonders for big
mid, treble, and gain. But there are also two smaller controls: a chords with a lot of low-end like Fmaj7#11 or inversions like
mini-button for “boost” (which actually adds a little gain and D/F# and E/G#. The extra clarity found me exploring sonorities
compression) and a small knob for MXR’s Smart Gate noise and chord clusters that I ordinarily wouldn’t touch with this
gate that turns yellow when activated. much gain. For leads, this setting was wicked. Pinch harmonics
popped with ease, and tremolo-picked, single-note melodies way
Diver Brown up on the fretboard sounded triumphant.
I tested the 5150 Overdrive with a humbucker-equipped “Super Some of my favorite Van Halen moments occur when Eddie
Strat” as well as a traditional, single coil-equipped Stratocaster works the shades between clean and dirty sounds in a song,
through the clean channel of a Mesa/Boogie Mark IV. At its lowest and the MXR is responsive in a way that makes these shades
gain setting (around 6:30) and with all the tone controls at noon, available with a slight shift in guitar volume. And I could move
the MXR turned the Boogie into something more like a cranked from a massive wall of sound to the familiar Van Halen, quiet,
tweed Fender—not a stretch, given the Boogie’s design pedigree, but clean-ish rhythm (think of the interlude after the “House of
a beautiful, rich distortion sound. Chords took on an aggressive snarl Pain” solo, or the intro of “Drop Dead Legs”) with just a flick of
that would excel in a hard rock or classic rock rhythm setting. To get the guitar volume control.
less bite and cleaner tones you need a soft touch, but the fact that Maxing the gain generates massive sounds that could
approach works is a testament to how dynamic the pedal can be. It’s be mistaken for a raging stack of amps. For modern metal
also surprisingly sensitive: moving the gain up just a hair to around 7 rhythms, the sound is tight and especially potent. Soloing
o’clock means a distinct increase in saturation and sustain that’s cool also felt amazingly easy with this much gain, and with the
for smoother, more polite lead sounds or heavy rhythm tones. noise gate keeping stray harmonics and noise under control,

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 173

a lot of inconvenient mistakes became engaged, the pedal is so quiet that I
a lot less pronounced! That said, the sometimes forgot it was on. To really test
superb definition and focus of the the gate, I plugged in my Stratocaster,
pedal rewarded precision. Alternate which can be unbearably noisy. It did
picked, scalar sequences popped with wonders mitigating the Strat’s pesky hum,
percussiveness like a typewriter in the even with the gate set at near-minimum
hands of a transcription wiz. Most other levels. The feature is a major plus. After pedal at premierguitar.com/feb2016
pedals or ultra high-gain amps would using this pedal for a few weeks, it was
turn into a nebulous blob of noise at almost hard to go back to a gate-less setup.
this point. The 5150 Overdrive stayed
exceptionally open and detailed. The Verdict
The added compression and gain from Eddie Van Halen’s playing has always MXR 5150 Overdrive
the “boost” function adds a slight but been about inventiveness, and the 5150 $199 street
perceptible bump (+6 dB.) Predictably, it applies this approach to the OD pedal jimdunlop.com
doesn’t feel quite like a boost in the most template. While the 5150 name might
familiar sense. Instead it feels more like an imply that it’s strictly a “Brown-Sound- Tones
additional texture—adding dimension and in-a-box” device, it’s far from one- Ease of Use
a little extra harmonic breadth to an already dimensional. This little box can deliver Build/Design
very happening sound. virtually any OD/distortion sound with
a vengeance.
Noise Police The 5150 Overdrive’s price might be
PROS Perfectly nails the essence of the
When you use a lot of gain, you get a lot a little more than consumers are used to Eddie Van Halen sound, and then some.
of noise. Usually, I’ll tame the noise (if from MXR. But the fact that this pedal
it can be tamed) via muting techniques. can decimate many boutique pedals that CONS Could be pricey for some.
With the 5150 Overdrive’s smart gate do much less makes it a killer buy.



Eric McFadden
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photo : Edward Saenz

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By Steve Cook

mpeg’s huge impact on the world of bass amplification Same but Different
is no secret. The SVT is a standard onstage rig and the The “PF” in PF-50T is short for Portaflex—a salute to
B-15 is a staple in recording studios the world over. Not Ampeg’s iconic flip-top B-15 head. The design of the PF-50T
only has Ampeg set the bar high for the rest of the amp realm is super slick, yet still brings back memories of the old days
over the years, but for themselves in their quest to push forward with its two massive transformers and a steel cage that houses
in designs and features, yet maintain a respectful nod to the five tubes on top. Not to be confused with the B-15 Heritage
tone and builds that made them so significant in the first place. (the flip-top reissue in the family), the PF-50T has been
Enter the new all-tube PF-50T—a flexible, rock-solid amp that engineered to bridge the gap between the B-15 and the SVT
captures the spirit of Ampeg classics of the past, and offers an with moderate power, tube warmth, and more than a hint of
innovative feature that should be an industry standard. saturation available.

Passive and Ultra-hi and 5-way mid control

active inputs ultra-low boosts

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 177

The 20-pound PF-50T has two like myself. (Word of caution: The steel amp gives bassists, however, there are
inputs—one for passive instruments and housing for the tubes gets very hot.) The some features Ampeg left off that some
the other with a 15 dB cut for active bass I sort of had to plug in first was the players are accustomed to—like an
instruments. The control set is easy vintage P strung with flats. I eased the bass effects loop, tuner out, and headphone
enough: gain, Ampeg’s well-known ultra-hi to 1 o’clock, engaged the ultra-low switch, out. While it might not boast a host
and ultra-low EQ buttons, bass, midrange, and left the rest of the controls at noon. of bells and whistles, the PF-50T
a 5-way midrange sweep, treble, and, For a moment, I closed my eyes and I was excels where it’s supposed to. It’s a
finally, a master volume. The rear panel is in the snake pit at Hitsville, U.S.A., hoping straightforward amp with plenty of
also uncomplicated, with the exception of to open them and see Smokey Robinson power and tube-tone nirvana for the
one very cool feature: twin XLR outs. writing lyrics next to me. It was all the stage or studio. Don’t take my word for
Why would Ampeg put two DIs on the vintage warmth you would expect. And it—get to an iso room and test this little
PF-50T? Well, the first DI can be run either when scrolling through the mid sweeps, it’s gem out yourself.
pre or post EQ. The second DI is an output a snap finding a sweet spot to your liking.
straight from the transformer, which is But what if you aren’t a rock or
basically what you would send to a cabinet. Motown sort of player? Well, the PF-50T
Let’s say you are allowed two channels in can produce great slap tones too. Engaging
the FOH console at your next gig. Your both the ultra-hi and ultra-low switches,
engineer can have both your untouched scooping some of the mids, and with bass
clean signal and your dialed-in tone to work and treble both around 3 o’clock, the
with. Or say you’re silent recording at home amp sings a different tune. The definition
with the PF-50T (no cab required!). You really pops, and clean, articulate fingerstyle
amp at premierguitar.com/feb2016
can run both DIs at the same time—one players will be right at home. The active
clean and one dirty. You don’t have to have a StingRay was a little much for the amp
splitter to lay down one clean take while you because its tone is a bit pointed to begin
are using the amp to saturate tone. Whether with, but I was able to tone things down a
you’d like to blend the signal or need to touch with the EQ and keep its snap and Ampeg PF-50T
fix something later on the clean track, the pop with a great balance of rumble.
$899 street
option is there. Pretty killer. The Fender VI was a lot of fun with ampeg.com
the PF-50T when I dimed the gain and
It’s in There pushed the amp into nasty mode. The Tones
When powering up the amp, the indicator tube saturation was really pleasing and Ease of Use
light illuminates red in standby mode and the user-friendly EQ made the 6-string
purple for go mode. I plugged in a few jump out pretty quickly. I should again
instruments for this review: a vintage Fender stress the coolness factor of being able
P, a Music Man StingRay, and a Fender Bass to run the dual DIs, especially with an
VI. And to keep it in the family, I paired the instrument like the VI that lends itself to PROS Tube, tube, tube. A standout
and relatively affordable amp for studio
PF-50T with a 1965 Ampeg 1x15. the new era of guitarless duos.
and stage.
I let the PF-50T warm up for a good
20 minutes. The glow of the two massive The Verdict CONS Lacks a few modern features
6L6s, the 12AU7, and the pair of 12AX7s It’s not hard to fall in love with the some players might miss.
was a welcome sight for an old soul tube tone of the PF-50T. For all this

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Talman Prestige
By Matthew Holliman

ntroduced in 1994, the original Ibanez Talman remained the 1730 and its Telecaster-inspired cousins the TM1702
in production just a few years before it was discontinued. and TM1803M are distinctly vintage-Fender inspired, their
It arrived on a wave of interest in offbeat ’60s models. electronics and hardware (including Seymour Duncan Five-
And along with guitars like the Charvel Surfcaster, it attracted Two pickups and Gotoh locking machine heads) makes them
shoegazers, indie-, and noise-rock artists looking for a synthesis wonderfully playable and practical instruments that convey
of modern stability and vintage aesthetics. In the short time classic—and classy—style with a visual vibe that’s very much
it was produced, and in the years since, the Talman gained a their own.
quietly devoted cult following.
Although the Talman name lived on in a line of acoustic Throwback Body, Fresh Hardware
hybrids, the TM1730M reviewed here marks the first return Crafted in Japan, the new Talman Prestige series is very well
to the original solidbody configuration since 1998. And while made. The bolt-on 25.5" maple neck has a familiar-feeling

Seymour Duncan
Five-Two pickups

Alder body

Single tone control

“C” profile, 22 medium-sized frets, and uncommonly natural whether you have Moving from the Twin Reverb to other
black dot-inlays. The ITL-PRO tremolo it slung around your shoulder or you’re amps highlighted the Talman’s agreeable,
bridge and block assembly is situated sitting on the couch. more flexible nature. Through a crunchy
in a body cavity so you can adjust the My only very minor (and highly Orange OR50 and even various solid-
spring tension by removing the back personal) complaint about the design is state practice amps, the Talman never
plate. Each bridge saddle is individually that the vibrato arm sits a little high for sounded brittle. The guitar is also very
adjustable for height and string length, my taste. I’d rather not stray so far from well suited to pedals. Paired with an
and with the easy-to-access bullet truss- the strings just to add a quick vibrato Analog Man Sun Face, the Talman sawed
rod, intonation chores are a snap. The flourish. It does, however, provide the through early David Gilmour leads—
tremolo arm screws into place and leverage to generate deeper pitch warble, sounding rich and slicing, and generating
will remain in a fixed position with a which is great for My Bloody Valentine impressive sustain in the process. This
complete clockwise rotation. The five- chord glides. If you want to drop the environment also revealed the high
way pickup selection switch is configured arm closer to the body, adjusting the quality of controls like the volume pot,
like a Stratocaster’s, but there is only one spring tension or swapping the arm out which has a nice, even taper and the
tone knob to adjust the output. This entirely are possibilities. Tuning stability sensitivity to wrangle the Sun Face from
knob rests, in a unique configuration, on was also excellent when I put the tremolo banshee scream to overdriven growl.
the input jack plate, with the remaining arm to work. The Gotoh machine heads
controls mounted atop a three-ply black held fast under the strain of aggressive The Verdict
and white pickguard. The official finish vibrato work, in slack tunings, and in A lot of folks might be disappointed that
label is “Vintage White,” although it’s combinations of the two. Ibanez took such a Fender-inspired—some
closer to cream than an authentically With a ’65 Twin Reverb reissue dialed might say conservative—approach to
yellowed white. Nevertheless, it looks up clean, the Seymour Duncan Five- resurrecting the Talman. And who knows?
great and is a beautiful compliment to Two pickups were clear and bell-like. Maybe a revival of the sparkle-painted,
the maple neck. The alnico 2 and 5 magnets conspired lipstick-tubed ’90s models is just around the
to deliver snappy bass response, with a corner (hint, hint, Ibanez). But whatever
A Tone Before Its Time slightly tame and tethered but clear treble the Talman Prestige lacks in flash it makes
If you’re like me and play mostly from the high strings. Paired with the up in rock solid playability, comfort,
classic Fender models, the Talman will Twin Reverb, the Talman dished up a quality, and great sounds. And while the
feel immediately familiar. I’m a big punchy flavor fit for the Stones heartier nearly $1,200 bucks you’ll part with to
Stratocaster guy, so it’s difficult to avoid blues entrees. The overtones in moveable make it your own isn’t small change, this is
making comparisons between the two open chords sounded out and resonated a guitar that leaves you yearning for little
models. But before I ever plugged in, clearly—a total delight with a healthy once you’ve plugged it in.
it was hard not to miss how uniquely heap of amp reverb. And though the
comfortable this guitar is: the length of pickups are a tad darker compared to
neck in relation to the body, the balance, my Stratocaster’s Fender Custom Shop guitar at premierguitar.com/feb2016
the light-but-substantial alder body— ’69 pickups, the Duncan single-coils are
they all conspire to make this guitar feel balanced and colorful.

Ibanez Talman Prestige

Gotoh locking
machine heads $1,199 street


PROS High quality. Very Comfortable.

Excellent pickups.

CONS Design a tad conservative.

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 181

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Doppler Stereo Combo
By Joe Gore

ear reviewers tend to describe new amps in terms of NOS stuff, including most of the tubes, and the circuit is
old ones. We rely on stock phrases: “Vox-like chime,” immaculately hand-wired on terminal strip. The transformers
“Blackface-style scoop,” “Marshall-like midrange.” are from Mercury Magnetics, with the output transformer being
That usually works out fine, because new amps also tend to a custom model, and there’s one rectifier.
rely on what’s come before. But comparisons aren’t so easy On the outside, bling abounds. Our review model was
when confronted with an amp as unique, idiosyncratic, and just decked out in faux-alligator Tolex and black leather with gold-
plain weird as Siegmund’s massive Doppler combo. I’ve never plated knobs, vents, screws, and handle hardware. The control
encountered anything like it, and I bet you haven’t either. panel glows with golden light when you power up. This amp
will get you noticed.
Big and Blingy
The Doppler is an imposing beast, weighing in at 70 pounds— Styled for Stereo
think silverface Fender Twin with JBLs, only more so. Like Doppler’s marquee feature is its stereo sound, but it’s not the
those Twins, it comes with detachable casters—five of them sort of stereo effect you encounter on, say, vintage and modern
to suit the amp’s trapezoidal shape. The amp is as wide as it is Magnatones. Most amps with stereo trem/vibrato send a
heavy, measuring an impressive 33.5" from left to right. The modulated version of your signal to one speaker while the dry
cabinet is solid pine. The components are mostly high-end signal (or an inverted version of the modulated signal) feeds

Stereo amp with

amp sections

KT66 power tube EL34 power tube

(bass side) (treble side)

Two contrasting speakers

(15" Weber, 10" Tone Tubby)

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 183

Spring reverb with 4-band tone control
dwell control
the other speaker, producing a spacious
stereo effect. 2-speed vibrato
with rate LED
But here—through a trademarked
process called Asymmetric Frequency
Soundstage—the signal encounters a
crossover circuit that routes lows to
the left speaker and highs to the right.
Contrasting speakers emphasize the
effect: a massive 15" Weber 15A200 for
the bass, and a 10" Tone Tubby Silver
Bullet for the right. The power tubes for
each side also differ, with a single KT66
for the low-end left side and an EL34 for
the brighter right. Each side employs two
6SL7s—relatively rare octal preamp tubes Unexpected Behavior hard to use. And given Doppler’s focus
that appeared in some early-’60s amps. Given its bulk, Doppler doesn’t seem on modulation sounds, I can’t help
(They’re admired for their ultra-present, terribly loud. There’s a master volume wishing there was more control over the
non-compressed sound, and feared for control, but driving the input while modulating waveform.
their noisy, microphonic tendencies.) lowering the master tends to yield hard,
harsh sounds. When you whack the input The Verdict
Wild, Wild Wobble harder, the resulting tone is likelier to bark Doppler is different. Its unique tones
Given Doppler’s unconventional than purr. The amp is also rather noisy. range from striking to strident. It
architecture, it’s no surprise that the amp There’s not a lot of clean headroom—I generates unconventional trem/vibrato
produces unusual vibrato effects. While sometimes found myself overdriving the sounds, though you could probably
the dual-frequency arrangement seems input in an unpleasant way, even when create similar effects with two amps and
inspired by vintage Leslie cabinets, the using guitars with vintage-output pickups. a couple of stompboxes. I’d be thrilled to
resulting effect doesn’t sound Leslie- Whether it’s the low-compression preamp employ these offbeat modulation sounds
like, or even especially “dopplery.” The tubes or some other aspect of the amp’s on a recording, but probably not thrilled
modulation is asymmetrical, closer to design, Doppler simply doesn’t smooth enough to make this big amp a constant
a Uni-Vibe’s lopsided wobble than the out as levels are raised. Then again, the companion, especially given its modest
evenly spaced pulses of traditional amp focus here is relatively clean tones that versatility and far-from-modest price.
trem. But the tone isn’t very Uni-Vibe- best showcase the modulation effects.
like either. Because separate frequencies There are nice-sounding treble, mid, CLICK HERE TO HEAR this combo at
are routed to left and right, you don’t get and bass controls, plus an additional voice premierguitar.com/feb2016
the phasy quality you encounter when knob that prunes lows and low mids.
identical or overlapping frequency ranges The latter is helpful for balancing the two
are pitted against each other. sides, dialing back the boomy, low-mid
So what does Doppler’s modulation resonance that can accumulate on the
sound like? It’s an offbeat trem/vibrato dark channel. Still, miking the amp can Siegmund Doppler
effect with strong, sometimes jerky be tricky: There aren’t separate volume Stereo Combo
rhythms and deep modulation even at controls per side, and the bright side is $3,995 street
modest intensity settings. This striking usually far hotter than the bass side. (Of
effect wouldn’t sound out of place on course, you can balance the level as desired
one of Radiohead’s classic albums. The in a DAW or at the mixing board.)
Ease of Use
vibrato section has independent rate and I encountered odd behavior from the
depth controls, plus a fast/slow toggle effect-section controls. While a pair of Build/Design
and a rate-indicator LED. You can also concentric knobs serves well to set the Value
connect the included controller pedal reverb length and mix, the reverb effect
via stereo cord to set the rate by foot comes on very strong, very soon—even 10 PROS Unique sound. Quality materials.
and switch the vibrato effect on and percent up is quite wet. At high settings, Nice build.
off. (I recorded the example clips with the reverb spirals into self-oscillation. Trem
a matched pair of AKG 414 condenser depth settings about 12 o’clock produce
CONS Limited headroom. Harsh
distortion. No traditional trem/vibrato
mics, panning the two signals fully left a percussive pop with each modulation sound. Expensive.
and right.) cycle, rendering higher-intensity settings

Rodney Crowell
and Collings Guitars
Rodney Crowell and his 1993 Collings C10 Deluxe

Serious Guitars | www.collingsguitars.com



(716) 630-7030

By Charlie Saufley
Intensity controls for
tweeter and bass rotor

ffects designers have devised some pretty clever ways
to approximate the sounds of a rotary speaker. A lot of
these pedals, like the Uni-Vibe, became sonic categories
all their own, with cults of nitpickers that debate the relative control
merits of different versions. But no matter how good a chorus,
vibe, or phaser sounds—no matter how hip they can sound Ramp
in just the right context—they’ll never quite nail the whirling, speed
swirling, undulating properties of those original spinning, control
mechanically modulating leviathans.
Pedal designers, however, are nothing if not a stubborn bunch.
And in the never-say-die quest to build a Leslie in a box, digital
magicians have closed the gap. We’ve seen some great digital
rotary simulators in recent years like the Strymon Lex and Neo
Instruments Ventilator, but the compact and killer sounding
DLS RotoSPIN is right up there with the best. It’s good enough
to be downright indistinguishable from a Leslie in the right Fast/slow modes
recording environment. And when used to the full extent of its
capabilities, it sounds captivating and convincing on stage, too. and the way the pedal interacts with the amp you put at the
other end. Yet another internal pot enables you to increase the
Power to Swirl intensity of pitch bend (or Doppler effect, as they call it) on the
There are days when anything more than a two-knob fuzz tweeter. Here, again, this control can significantly re-shape the
looks like a headache to me. And the day I opened up the DLS personality of the pedal.
was one of them. But what you find out fast is that this set of In general, the RotoSPIN seems exceptionally well built. The
controls is intuitive to the point of being dummy proof. very busy circuit board is well ordered. And to the extent that much
Two knobs on the upper left set the respective speeds of the of the circuit must be a carryover from the larger DLS RotoSIM,
slow and fast modes. The two just to the right of that control the it’s surprising that it’s as tidy as it is and has room for the input gain
intensity and level of the virtual rotating tweeter and bass rotor control, two volume controls, and the pitch intensity pot.
(or horn and drum, as they are better known in some quarters).
As we’ll see, these controls are very interactive and much more Swirl on, Sister!
(and often more subtle) than simple volume controls. One the beautiful things about the RotoSPIN is how satisfying
The lower left ramp knob controls the rate at which the it is before you ever tweak or fine-tune any of the controls. The
virtual rotor rotations come to full speed when you switch manual explains that setting all four knobs to noon effectively
between slow and fast speeds. Just to the right of that, there’s replicates an old Fender Vibratone. And sure enough, in the
a gain knob and a switch that engages the drive channel. Two fast setting the DLS delivers the same sassy, satisfying warble
footswitches are for bypass and the fast/slow modes. of Mike Campbell’s “You Don’t Know How it Feels” textures
You could work with these controls exclusively and get plenty and SRV’s queasier riffs. Interestingly, this is one setting that
of great sounds out of the DLS. But there are a lot under-the- you can approximate pretty well with a good analog chorus on
hood tweaks you can make to fine-tune the pedal for your rig. a heavy depth setting. And yet, the differences between the two
Some of the most effective controls relate to the stereo outputs, effects are profound. The DLS is much more rich and complex
which have their own unique sonic qualities. Output A is voiced than a chorus. The shades between virtual spin cycles are more
to be fatter. Output B is brighter. But they also have their vivid. There’s also a certain toughness and attitude to the
own internal volume control pots, which can change the voice modulations—especially with a little drive.

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 187

The prescribed Leslie 122 setting is pitch shifted but low-level tweeter setting
delicious and a highlight of how rich the with a more present and slightly louder CLICK HERE TO WATCH A DEMO of this
DLS sounds compared to a chorus, phaser, large-to-mid-size cabinet setting on the pedal at premierguitar.com/feb2016
or vibrato. In stereo mode this setting is bass side. This setting sounded even cooler
heavy, gently pulsing, and dreamy—and in stereo. In fact, just about every setting
sounds especially fat in Drop D and other sounded deeper and richer with two amps,
slack tunings. which opens up cool possibilities related to
When you stray from the prescribed other effects. I became addicted to the very DLS Effects RotoSPIN
formulas for Vibratone or Leslie 122/145 intoxicating sound of running one of the $259 street
cabs, you start to hear how subtle and stereo channels with a slapback delay on dlseffects.com
interactive the tweeter and bass rotor multiple repeats, for instance.
controls are. DLS claims they simulate Tones
properties and parameters like “width” and The Verdict Ease of Use
microphone proximity rather than just Good Leslie simulators tend toward the Build/Design
volume, and they are understated rather expensive side of the spectrum. So the Value
than transformative. Given how nice and $259 street price that DLS asks for the
realistic the basic rotary voice is, that’s no very smart, convenient, streamlined, and PROS Very convincing and rich rotary
bad thing. At times the tweeter and bass easy-to-use RotoSPIN is a relative value— simulations. Intuitive and streamlined
rotor knobs feel quite like controls on an old even if some competitors may have more when you need it to be. Tweakable when
Fender amp, which will almost exponentially features or sound ever so slightly more you need to fine tune. Versatile stereo
emphasize bass by reducing treble. authentic in isolated situations. It’s likely functionality.

You can further tweak the character to hold its own and then some against
CONS Treblier tweeter settings can
of the treble sounds, however, by adding the competition in the studio. And live betray small traces of digital voice. No
pitch shift depth with the internal pot. And and loud through two amps, this rotary expression pedal option.
one of my favorite settings used a heavily simulator is hard to top at any price.


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Fret-King USA Premier Guitar.qxp_Layout 1 18/06/2015 14:59 Page 4

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By Joe Gore

riting about Vox-style amps can be tough! So many general, one that departs from tradition as often as it adheres
of the words that describe their iconic tones can to it. Both its channels employ a pair of EL84 power tubes
sound like putdowns: “The distortion crackles and à la Vox’s AC15 and, yes, the Lincoln does a fine AC15
fizzes, but in a good way.” “The cabinet and speaker have a boxy impersonation. But that’s only one of the amp’s cast of
midrange resonance, but it’s a cool kind of boxy.” Guitar writers characters. Many unconventional details expand the Lincoln’s
inevitably whip out the word “chime,” but, really, do AC30s and range without relinquishing its mid-’60s vibe. It’s a savvy
AC15s sound anything like a struck bell? Chimes aren’t known compromise between tradition and innovation.
for slashing upper-midrange breakup—a signature quality of
Vox distortion. But while adjectives and verbs often fail to New Tones in Two-Tone
capture the glory of those EL84 tones, amp builder Steve Carr’s The Lincoln is a looker. Our review model boasts showy
latest release nails it. two-tone Tolex, an asymmetric speaker cutout in the form of
Carr’s Lincoln combo doesn’t clone any particular Vox a sideways shield, and, in a nod to Vox styling, gold-thread Independent
model—it’s more of a freewheeling fantasia on “Voxiness” in piping. The solid-pine cabinetry is masterful. reverb settings
per channel

Two EL84 power tubes

combo amp

Point-to-point wiring

12" Celestion G12M

Creamback speaker

Solid pine cabinet

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 191

The amp’s guts are equally striking, great for bulking up single-coil pickups. it hard to believe it’s not a larger, louder
if less photogenic. There’s no turret I’ve never heard lipstick tubes sound so amp. It’s a potent 6 watts, though—
board—this is mostly point-to-point wiring beefy!) It interacts with the treble control’s perhaps even a bit loud for home use.
(though a few subsections are assembled mid scoop, providing a smorgasbord of The 12", 65-watt Celestion
on small circuit boards). It looks like a midrange flavors. The tone controls sound Creamback is a fine speaker choice.
rat’s nest decorated with glue-gun blobs. great no matter how they’re set, and all It sounds a lot like the Celestion
But a few pokes with a wooden chopstick settings clean up beautifully when you Greenbacks that appeared in many
confirm that the components are secure. back off your guitar’s volume. vintage Voxes, but with more power.
(Steve Carr says newer production Lincolns The spring reverb has a bright, That extra headroom benefits Lincoln’s
are much tidier.) This is a complex splashy California feel. Clean tones and hotter-than-vintage sounds and plays nice
circuit with many parts—and a seriously maxed-out reverb yield epic surf tones— with gain pedals that might overload a
labor-intensive build. Factor in the high- something you might not expect from a lower-wattage traditional speaker such as
end parts (including aerospace-industry Vox-inspired amp. Celestion’s 15-watt Alnico Blue.
Solens capacitors and custom-spec TMI
transformers) and superior hardware, and Drive All Night The Verdict
the price becomes less shocking. The channel 2 controls are drive, tone, Carr’s Lincoln expands on—and
Each preamp section uses a pair of and master, with a high/low toggle sometimes improves—the sounds of
12AX7 preamp tubes. The rectifiers duplicating the footswitch boost function. classic Vox combos. At all settings it’s an
are solid-state. There’s a stompbox- Despite the high gain profile, channel uncommonly euphonious amp. Close
sized footswitch (included) for channel 2 maintains a Voxy character—or at intervals ring harmoniously. Complex
switching and adding a subtle but effective least Vox by way of Marshall 18-watt. It chords remain clear and balanced. Set the
overdrive boost. You can set reverb levels certainly goes places vintage Voxes don’t, damn knobs any which way—Lincoln
independently for each channel. offering creamy compression and muscular still sings sweetly. The price? Ouch. But
chunk. It’s easy to imagine Marshall-loving the amp’s versatility, stunning tones,
Clean to Mean hard rockers hanging out here. fine craftsmanship, labor-intensive build
Channel 1’s volume control is beautifully As on the clean channel, tones maintain techniques, and many clever innovations
tapered. You get squeaky-clean tones crackling clarity, even at hot settings. make the stiff sum easier to swallow.
only in the lowest quadrant. Above that, Notes can sing with endless sustain in
overdrive accumulates smoothly and Brain May fashion, even without adding
steadily. The channel feels like it wants a resonant booster pedal like May uses.
to ignite into overdrive, but don’t fear for Lowering your guitar volume generates
the clarity of your clean-toned parts; even cool tone variations, though the hot
the hottest settings retain crisp definition channel never cleans up like channel 1
and harmonic clarity. You can nudge does. Lower-gain tones are a bit on the CLICK HERE TO WATCH A DEMO of this
tones toward the dirty side without dark side—not a bad thing, since that amp at premierguitar.com/feb2016
muddiness or flatlined compression. quality prevents shrillness at super-hot
The bright/normal switch can lend settings. The Lincoln never shrieks.
a glassy edge reminiscent of Vox’s Top The single-knob tone control is a stroke
Boost combos. (“Glassy” is another word of genius. It’s not a simple treble trim, as Carr Lincoln
that can sound negative, but isn’t in this on most single-tone-knob amps, but more
$2,830 ($2,980 as reviewed
case.) It’s great for those sizzling mid- of a midrange sculpting tool. It’s great for with two-tone color scheme)
period Beatles riffs. Or just toggle to highlighting the character of a particular carramps.com
normal and advance the gain for superb pickup. Humbuckers, P-90s, lipstick
early-Zep colors. tubes, Filter’Trons, and Fender single-coils Tones
The tone circuit is deceptively simple. all yield stellar tones. The channel simply Ease of Use
There are only two knobs—treble doesn’t need bass or treble controls. Build/Design
and bass—yet Lincoln provides more
midrange control than many amps with Quiet Storm
a dedicated mid knob. As you advance The Lincoln sounds magnificent at its
PROS Stunning Vox-inspired tones.
the treble, low mids are siphoned away— full 18 watts, but it’s no less splendid at 6 Superb build. Innovative departures from
clarifying tones and making highs glisten. watts—just quieter. It’s easy to summon the vintage template. Drop-dead looks.
Maximum treble settings are super-bright, huge tones, eternal sustain, and controlled
but never nasty. Meanwhile, the virile bass feedback at lower power. When listening CONS Oh, my aching wallet!
control regulates lows and low mids. (It’s back to recorded performances, I find


Marcus Miller V7
By David Abdo

arcus Miller knows a thing or two about Jazz basses. (Alder construction and other finishes are available.) The one-
So when Sire Guitars set out to create a J-style line, piece hard-maple neck supports a maple fretboard that’s adorned
they consulted with the respected player to assist with pearloid-block inlays and a natural-bone nut. While 3-bolt
in the design and development. The goal was to create a well- necks were commonly used on mid-to-late ’70s Fender J basses,
crafted instrument with a heavy dose of inspiration from the Sire opted for a standard 4-bolt joint.
classic J-style formula, yet with some modern enhancements. The Sire V7’s electronics package mixes tradition and today’s
It also had to be financially feasible for just about any player. technology. The Marcus Super Jazz pickups are made with fiber
Could Sire achieve all this to stand out amidst a crowded field bobbins, alnico 5 magnets, and heavy formvar wire to replicate
of J-style basses? Short answer: Yes. classic J-style tone. Miller’s input inspired the Marcus Heritage-3
18V preamp that has a sweepable-mid EQ stack in a 3-band
All Miller, No Filler package, and a main-tone control that also works in active mode.
Like Miller’s cherished ’77 Fender Jazz, the Sire V7 oozes The V7’s hardware is quite nice for an instrument in this
timeless style. The body of our V7 test bass was carved from price range. Sire and Miller came up with an excellent high-
swamp ash, dressed in a beautiful tobacco-sunburst finish, and mass bridge that combines simplicity, stability, and string-
topped with an ivory pearl pickguard that adds decorative flair. through capability. The open-gear tuners felt solid and instilled

Marcus Super
Jazz pickups

Pearloid block inlays

Sweepable midrange 3-band EQ

confidence that they could handle string access and the wires to the battery clips You can expect some typical 60-cycle
tension over time. were rather short. hum when soloing either pickup, but
the Marcus Super Jazz pickups weren’t as
Desired Virtues Dominant ’7 noisy as many others on the market.
When I first pulled the V7 out of Getting familiar with the V7 took no Balancing both pickups sounded
the case, it felt a bit body heavy. This time at all, so I felt confident taking it full and articulate, and was excellent
turned out to be advantageous in out to an 11-piece horn-band show and a for fingerstyle and slapping. The V7
terms of balance since the V7 held its performance with a blues quintet. For both responded quickly to slides and bends,
position extremely well in both seated gigs, I plugged the V7 into the same rig I great for tunes like Earth, Wind & Fire’s
and strapped orientations. In fact, the used at home: an Epifani UL501 head (set “Shining Star.” Simply boosting the bass
extra mass made it easier to maintain flat) driving two Bergantino HD112s. and treble knobs got me to an aggressive
a comfortable playing posture, which Miller’s signature bass impressed at slap tone. No, the V7 didn’t transform
allowed my left hand to move freely both shows. The EQ accommodated every me into Marcus Miller, but I was able
across the neck and effortlessly access all sonic request I made, from a punchy low- to capture a great sound that pleased my
parts of the fretboard. mid boost that kept my bandmates and ears and my bandmates’ ears equally.
Of all that Miller’s signature bass has the dance floor happy, to a big boost in
to offer, the most impressive aspect was the tone and treble dials to cut through The Verdict
the electronics. The preamp is voiced to a boomy room. Apart from the typical Sire’s V7 has already created quite
near perfection with the J-style pickups, dead-note areas found on most electric a buzz in the bass arena, and my
and I really dig the inclusion of the tone basses, the V7 projected well-defined experience with the bass confirmed and
control that functions in both passive notes with an evenness and clarity I just exceeded expectations with its excellent
and active mode. The added dimensions don’t expect from an instrument at this construction, versatile J-style tones, and
it offers can change the character of the price point. Regardless of volume or clean aesthetics. The price point only
instrument or work as a quick problem instrumentation, I played dynamic and intensifies the qualities that make the
solver for bright or boomy rooms. The confident bass lines all night long. V7 one of the best basses on the market
bass control contains huge lows and it Tonal versatility is another big benefit under $500. In fact, it might be one of
didn’t take much at all to bring some of the V7. It was easy to get a barky, Jaco- the best production J-style basses out there
big bottom to the tone. And the treble esque tone by soloing the bridge pickup, regardless of price. If Sire’s consistency
dial serves up modern sizzle for adding dialing the tone control almost all the way is in line with the quality of our test
edge to fingerstyle playing or brightness down, and slightly boosting the bass, mid, instrument, there is a true-standout player
to pops while trying to cop a favorite and treble. The setting was excellent for in the crowded J-style market.
Miller riff. those rare bass solo moments or jamming
The standout component of the Jaco classics like “Come On, Come Over.”
preamp for me is the stacked-mid section. The neck pickup delivered thick, CLICK HERE TO WATCH A DEMO of this
bass at premierguitar.com/feb2016
Since I believe the mids are such an punchy notes. Backing off the tone a bit
essential part of bass tone, the midrange and boosting the mids created a nice, old-
flexibility that the Heritage-3 offers is a school sound that never left me wanting
thoughtful feature. If I had to make any for a P. This was ideal for Duck Dunn
gripes at all about the preamp, they’d be moments with the blues band when we Sire Marcus Miller V7
small ones: The bottom controls of the jammed over “Born Under a Bad Sign”
$499 street
stacked knobs were a little difficult to and “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home.” sire-guitars.com


PROS A versatile J-style bass with

excellent balance and playability. Huge
bang for the buck.
Bone nut
CONS A little on the heavy side. Stacked
knobs are a touch difficult to access.

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 195

MAY 15 2015
“Every musician knows how
important the neck is. Without
a straight neck it doesn’t matter
how good it looks or plays.
We invested a lot of time and
money, because we want to build
the best instruments possible.”
- Jeff Kiesel
www.KieselGuitars .com


always made


Acoustic SFX
By Charlie Saufley

t’s easy to overlook the virtues of a good acoustic ampli-
fier. Having one isn’t essential to enjoying your guitar at
home or around a campfire. And any performance space
with a microphone (or two, if you sing) and a PA will prob-
ably get your performance over to the crowd.
But if you’ve ever experienced the indignities of playing
through a junk PA, you know that a little extra control over
your performance situation is a very nice thing. And if you’re
not willing to incur the inconvenience and expense of your
own PA and DI, an acoustic amp is a good way to go.
Fender’s Acoustic SFX is a very good acoustic amp—
rich sounding with a functional stereo speaker array and a
selection of effects that make it sound downright expansive
at times. But it also manages the neat trick of being a sort of
all-in-one acoustic performance “mothership” without being
bogged down by bells, whistles, and sound optimization
tools that are tricky to use on the fly.

Sonic Redistribution
The Acoustic SFX is not Fender’s first acoustic amp to feature
the SFX (stereo field expansion) technology. Two previous
iterations of the Acoustasonic line featured the stereo sound
distribution technique devised by Aspen Pittman and Drew
Daniels. In brief, the SFX system is based on a forward-facing
speaker and a second, smaller speaker that’s situated below and
at 90 degrees from the forward-facing driver. The front-facing
speaker receives and broadcasts the sum of left and right signals.
The second, smaller speaker receives a left-minus-right signal.
8" main speaker
While the speakers are technically rendered out of phase, what
you hear is not thin phase cancellation but a wider signal that’s
Side-radiating 6" driver
divided into component parts and redistributed in a wave of
sound that arrives at the ear as a more detailed sonic picture.
Fender incorporated the SFX speaker array into the
cabinet design beautifully—creating small portholes on either The control set is a straightforward affair that’s pretty easy
side of the amp and a rectangular port on the rear. Thoughtful to navigate. There’s a single volume knob, a 3-band EQ, and
design abounds elsewhere. The entire topside of the amp just reverb and effects-level controls for each of the amplifier’s
forward of the control panel is a very confortable, contoured channels. Each channel has a phase button if you run into
handle. The cavity between the handle and the control panel trouble with feedback. The third, middle set of controls is for
functions as a cool little stash box where you can put slides, the amp’s effects and the SFX functionality, which, as we’ll see,
picks, or whatever device you might be using for backing enhances the sound of the amp in profound ways. The effects
tracks or between-set tunes. The curved 9-ply wood cabinet, set includes a simple one-repeat delay, a multi-repeat delay,
meanwhile, looks like it was lifted from an Eames chair. chorus, and vibrato. Each is tap-tempo enabled and can be

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 197

2-channel design

Two delay effects Chorus and vibrato

Phase switch

3-band EQ

bypassed via an optional footswitch or by more—impressed with how high levels of The Verdict
turning the effects knob to zero. the second speaker added headroom and There’s much to like about the Acoustic
The SFX knob is essentially a level/ flexibility to the EQ controls, which are SFX. It’s stylish, functional, and
balance control that determines how typically the hardest thing to dial in right delivers ease-of-use and true sound-
much sound is distributed to the side- on an acoustic amp. sculpting potential at a price that’s still
mounted speaker. But its character shifts At high stereo SFX settings, the well south of many other professional
considerably depending on how you set amp’s intrinsic high-end sensitivity was grade acoustic amps. There’s room for
the effects and at what level. more apparent, but so was an extra bit improvement here and there: The high
The back panel has a pretty standard of presence and air that made the high midrange could be a little softer and
set of acoustic amp I/Os (balanced XLR end of both guitars sound less boxy. more contoured, for instance. But the
out, combination XLR and 1/4" mic/ Dialing in a high/mid setting that ample headroom and cool SFX-derived
line inputs), a voltage selector, and a eliminated crispy, clacky picking artifacts sounds make this amp a very solid and
footswitch jack for remotely bypassing without totally diminishing the sparkling reliable gigging partner.
the effects. overtones was relatively effortless. And
bass sounds took on a warmer, more
CLICK HERE TO HEAR this amp at
Acoustic Architecture in Practice atmospheric edge that enabled me to premierguitar.com/feb2016
In its most straightforward setup and reduce the already ample bass response.
at the lowest possible SFX settings, If you move between performance spaces
the Acoustic SFX is a great blank slate of varying size, the added headroom and
for most acoustics. I used a mahogany dimension the SFX function adds to
Martin 00-15 and Gibson J-45 with the EQ controls can be invaluable. And Fender Acoustic SFX
L.R. Baggs Element pickups. And while if you use a lot of low-tuned alternate $899 street
the amp seemed to favor the Gibson’s tunings, that extra dimension and fender.com
balance of low end and patina’d highs enhanced frequency balance can enliven
to the Martin’s more compact, sparklier overtones in beautiful ways. Tones
personality, the EQ controls provided The effects, while not spectacularly Ease of Use
ample headroom to dial up very pretty rich, deep, or colorful, work well with Build/Design
approximations of each guitar’s voice. the amp’s basic voice. The reverb, in
Dialing in the SFX function pays big particular, is quite nice at mellower
dividends, though, and I often wondered settings. I especially enjoyed mixing it in
why one would ever opt to dial out with a little of the multi-repeat delay for PROS Nice headroom. Round, rich bass
response. SFX function adds real dimension
the function entirely. While Fender atmospheric chord arpeggios. If you like and enhances EQ and effects potential.
makes much of the way the SFX design things especially spacy, the Acoustic SFX
works with the reverb and effects to add effects will go there, although they sound CONS High end can sound thin.
extra dimension, I was equally—if not less warm at higher levels.

Canadian Made. Globally Played.
Photo Credit: Cj Harvey

city of the sun

"My Seagull Entourage has a
rich ambient tone, I have
found a new meaning to the
words electric acoustic"
John Pita

"Plugged-in or acoustic, my handcrafted in canada

Seagull sounds amazing!"
Avi Snow
Seagull is a registered trademark of 117506 Canada Inc.
wearecityofthesun.com © 2015 Seagull Guitars

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By Joe Gore
Rat-style filter control

t’s no secret that most modern fuzz and distortion
pedals are based on designs from the 1960s and ’70s.
But revisiting old circuits doesn’t rule out creativity.
Consider Catalinbread’s Katzenkönig, which weds a great ’60s
Input trim pot
circuit to an equally classic ’70s one while adding meaningful
refinements—spawning a talented new offspring that often
outshines its parents.

Art School Confidential

I seldom dwell on stompbox cosmetics, but damn, this pedal
looks cool. The image of the Katzenkönig (“Cat King” in
German) presiding over his latest kill evokes early 20th-century
Vienna Secession graphics. It’s gorgeous.
The circuit resides in a standard B-sized enclosure. You Runs at up to
can power the pedal by battery or with any power supply 18 volts
voltage between 9V and 18V. The internal construction,
with its modern, handwired circuit board, seems solid and

Bender Basics
To understand what Katzenkönig does and why it’s special, it
helps to understand the circuits that inspired it. (Skip ahead if
you know this stuff.) works wonders, enabling shades you’d never obtain from a
The front half of the circuit is based on the Tone Bender MKII. Bright settings sizzle, but not excessively so, while dark
MKII, widely considered the most desirable of the Tone Benders. tones maintain impact.
(Not by me, for what it’s worth—the MKII is my least favorite Another useful addition is an input trim control. On a Bender,
of the four incarnations.) In the original, a germanium transistor it’s generally more effective to reduce gain by turning down your
makes the signal loud. A second transistor makes it very loud. guitar volume than by adjusting the pedal’s gain knob. Here, the
A third one makes it ridiculously loud. It’s one of the hottest input pot does the job. (You can still use your guitar’s volume
fuzzes ever, with a heavily distorted signal plus enough level to knob, but this arrangement is great for players who prefer to keep
bludgeon almost any preamp tube into overdriven submission. their guitar volume maxed out.) The control is perfectly scaled to
Lowering the two knobs on an original MKII (gain and volume) compensate for output variations between pickups types.
tends to neuter the impact, and there are no tone controls.
Got Gain?
Bending the Rat Even cooler is the reimagined gain control. Vintage Benders
Katzenkönig employs silicon transistors, which can mean an even crap out when you lower the gain, but Katzenkönig’s gain
louder, nastier Bender. Not here though—after the third transistor, control provides killer tones throughout its range. (Geek detail:
the signal encounters the second half of a Rat circuit. On that Instead of altering the voltage from a transistor to ground, it
pedal, an op amp generates gain, after which the signal encounters tweaks the resistance of a negative feedback loop between two
a pair of clipping diodes and a clever single-knob tone circuit. transistors. I can report this with confidence because the pedal’s
On Katzenkönig, the diodes focus the blaring, splattery extraordinarily useful and detailed user’s manual includes a
MKII sound. Lows get tighter and heavier. The filter control circuit schematic.)

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 201

I listened to Katzenkönig alongside intervals a clarity you’d never obtain from
accurate homemade MKII and a MKII.
Rat clones. Compared to a MKII, Someone clearly took the time
Katzenkönig is tighter, heavier, and more to refine the ranges and tapers of all
modern-sounding. You don’t quite get the knobs. Katzenkönig provides genuinely
low-end tightness of a Rat, and, for better useful sounds at nearly every setting— CLICK HERE TO WATCH A DEMO of this
or worse, there’s less of an ’80s metal feel. something you certainly can’t say about pedal at premierguitar.com/feb2016
Meanwhile, the added and redesigned Benders or Rats.
controls make the pedal vastly more
versatile than either of its inspirations. The Verdict
But as on both MKIIs and Rats, high- This spawn of a Tone Bender MKII and Catalinbread Katzenkönig
gain settings can be noisy—you may an early Rat doesn’t sound like either
$169 street
need to ride your guitar’s volume knob of its forebears. Instead, it splits the catalinbread.com
or apply a noise gate to keep the buzzing difference between the two. You get fiery
in check. fuzz with uncommon tightness—or, Tones
Paired with a pre-CBS Strat, to put it another way, tough distortion
Ease of Use
Katzenkönig fattened tones and with a strong dose of explosive fuzz.
smoothed highs—imagine a tighter- The pedal’s new and redesigned controls
sounding Fuzz Face with a snappier greatly extend its range, making it suitable Value
attack. When I switched to a Gibson for metal, punk, indie, or any style that
Trini Lopez with humbuckers, the sound benefits from aggressive yet disciplined PROS Unique distortion/fuzz hybrid.
was heavy but tight, with nicely balanced guitar tones. Katzenkönig is well made. Ferocious yet focused distortion.
Highly versatile.
lows. Both pickup types delivered It looks great. The price is more than
a focused fatness that lent complex fair. It has tones of its own. This one’s a CONS Noisy.
harmonies and low-register harmonic winner—all hail the Cat King!

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premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 203


Question & Obsession

Eat your heart out, Jimmy Fallon! This month we asked PG columnist Victor Brodén—who plays bass and is the musical
director for Thompson Square—to join us in discussing the dream bands we’d assemble if we hosted a TV show.

If you hosted a late-night

show, who would you want as
your house band?

Victor Brodén Daryl Denault

Thompson Square Reader of the Month

A: Michael Bland (New Power A: If they were all still around,

Generation) would be my the original Mothers of
drummer, no contest. On Invention band from 1965-
guitar I’d have Nile Rodgers 1970. Frank Zappa didn’t
and Keith Scott (Bryan really know what he had—
Adams). On bass I’d have this band could play any style
Nashville studio great Steve anytime (parodies included)
Mackey because the world with humor and intensity.
needs more of his groove.
On keys Roy Bittan of the Current obsession:
E Street Band would be my My current musical obsession
first call. I’d possibly add a is trying to find creative ways
sax player too, to annoy the of playing solos in a modern
hipsters if nothing else. bro-country band. That is,
most of the songs are by male
Current obsession: country artists about trucks,
The EBS Billy Sheehan dogs, beer, and hot girls!
Signature Drive distortion.
It has the soul and high-end
presence I always heard in my
head. The clean blend knob
really simulates the classic
setup of completely separate
rigs for low and high (dirty
and clean). It’s almost like
hell froze over when I found
myself loving, not liking,
a bass distortion without
reservation. The obsession is
serious enough that I might
have to start a trio this winter
just to use that pedal more!

John Bohlinger Rich Osweiler Jason Shadrick
Nashville Correspondent Associate Editor Associate Editor

A: I’ve played lots of TV and A: I want some drama, A: Hell with all the jam-hating
always hired my friends. excitement, and comedy with guitarists. I’d go with Phish.
But if I were the host, I’d the music to keep it lively The kings of improv rock
trade in my old anonymous for the audience. My first aren’t the road dogs of years
friend band for a new, fancy- thought was Van Halen but I’d past, so a stationary gig might
celebrity band. I’d hire Dave never get a word in with my be just what they’re looking
Grohl both for his drumming man Dave sharing the stage. for. Plus, they can hang
and clever commentary, So, I’m going with GWAR and with everyone from Jay-Z
Gregg Allman because his would favor guests I know to Wynonna, know a million
style of B3 is like Tabasco (it would be uncomfortable. tunes, and can bust out a
goes on everything), and Paul 20-minute version of “Rock &
McCartney on bass provided Current obsession: Roll” if needed.
he’d work for scale. I’d be the Big Star. I’ve long been
weakest link on guitar and blown away by their genius, Current obsession:
hosting with the guest couch but after recently watching For years the dark art of slide
on the bandstand. the documentary Big Star: guitar has eluded me.
Below: Photo courtesy of Dave’s Guitar Shop

Nothing Can Hurt Me for It’s time I buckle down with

Current obsession: the first time, I’m on a some Landreth and Trucks
Guitars, amps, and pedals get rediscovery listening tear. and get to work.
top billing but speakers are
the last thing you hear. My
Weber California 15" is my
current obsession.


Gearheads win!


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and so much volume on tap it’s
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“I’ve gotten more compliments “Really great new take on that

on my tone with the Baby Blues Vintage California Blackface
than since I started playing! sound! The extra mid control
I can’t believe how good it lets you dial it right in. The
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I don’t know what rig will be to vintage overdrive heaven.
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The Baby Blues is just amazing!”


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Many times Sonny can’t take his TGA-3 or Dumble on the plane so he takes the next best thing, his Mighty
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ing amount of power; 180 Watts into 4 ohms (modern 4x12 cab), 100 Watts into 8 ohms (single or 2 x 12
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premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2016 221

Handmade—at the Press of a Button


The real test hat do you think when
isn’t always if a company or individual
a robot or an
artisan makes a
touts a product as being
guitar, but if it is handmade? Does it bring to mind
well made and pictures of bearded, flannel-clad artisans
can satisfy your stooped over well-worn wooden benches
and brandishing ancient tools? Or do
you imagine a clean-cut clipboard-toting
technician in a lab coat pushing the start
button of an enormous, computerized
machine? Someone is using their hands
in both of these examples, right? So what
does it mean to be handmade, and why,
if at all, does it matter? First, let’s start
with definitions.

The Oxford Dictionaries definition: makers ranging from one-person outfits products are labeled “hand-assembled.”
Made by hand, not by machine, and making earrings and necklaces to big Another avenue is to deflect, such as
typically therefore of superior quality: companies churning out tons of bracelets. “Designed by Apple in California.” Guitar
“his expensive handmade leather shoes” The Federal Trade Commission’s makers have escaped close scrutiny mainly
guidance states: because the size of the industry is small,
Merriam-Webster’s definition: “It is unfair or deceptive to represent, but it doesn’t mean they are immune.
Made by hand or a hand process directly or by implication, that any industry Today, even small—aka boutique—
Synonyms: handcrafted, handwrought product is hand-made or hand-wrought builders employ subcontractors, buy
unless the entire shaping and forming of such machine-made parts, and use CNC
Okay, that’s vague isn’t it? Does this product from raw materials and its finishing machines to cut and shape their parts and
mean that a guitar has to be made only and decoration were accomplished by hand inlays. Some of those folks advertise their
with your hands for it to be handmade? labor and manually-controlled methods wares as handmade, while others don’t
What guitar builder doesn’t use tools to which permit the maker to control and vary see the need to use that ploy. Personally,
craft a guitar? Is a “hand” router different the construction, shape, design, and finish of I believe if there is someone controlling
than an overarm production router? They each part of each individual product.” the outcome of the build with his or her
both use electric motors and are guided Now we’re getting somewhere. own hands, then the product is handbuilt,
by templates, yet they both also require Seemingly, when you are sawing out handmade, or handcrafted. To answer
an operator to move the work (or the that body on your bandsaw, you are the question of whether or not it matters,
router itself ) by hand. Is a neck that is manually controlling the outcome. When there are people on both sides of that
roughed out with a power tool, and then you guide the router or template with fence. The real test isn’t always if a robot
brought to final shape with sandpaper your hands, you are determining the or an artisan makes a guitar, but if it is
not handmade? result, yes? But this is also where it gets well made and can satisfy your preference.
As it turns out, a lot of this has been sticky: “the entire shaping and forming of My preference is to have a real,
hashed out in the courts. I’m not writing such product from raw materials and its handcrafted piece, but I don’t look down
a legal brief here, but for the sake of finishing and decoration….” my nose at a well-made instrument that
curiosity, let’s look at what the Federal There have been court challenges was made with the push of a button.
Trade Commission’s guide to the jewelry alleging false-advertising claims based
industry says. (I’m using jewelry making upon the percentage of third-party work JOL DANTZIG is a noted
designer, builder, and player who
as an example because it’s a lot like included in the finished product. That is, co-founded Hamer Guitars, one of
making guitars.) Like guitars, jewelry is if you cut everything out by hand, but use the first boutique guitar brands,
in 1973. Today, as the director
made with raw materials—beads, gems, machine-made hardware or electronics, of Dantzig Guitar Design, he
chain, etc.—that are machine-processed you may run afoul of consumer continues to help define the art of
custom guitar. To learn more, visit
by third parties. And then you have your protection legislation. To avoid this, many guitardesigner.com.

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The Journey of Frodo Douchebaggins


Marilyn Manson’s et’s start this column with a • Thinks about himself most of the time
onstage antics tasteless yet germane joke. and talks about himself a lot
have earned
Scientists want to know if • Craves attention and admiration
him a reputation
that arguably canines learn by observing human • Exaggerate his talents and achievements
overshadows behavior. They borrow the dogs of • Believes he’s special
his music. a physicist, a mathematician, and a • Sets unrealistic goals genitals over the head of a security guard
musician, and then observe as the • Has wide, fast mood swings will always get you press. (I’m looking
dogs are set loose in a room with a • Has a hard time taking others’ at you, Marilyn Manson.) If your ability
big pile of bones. The physicist’s dog feelings seriously does not make you famous, infamous is
runs straight to the pile of bones and • Strives to win, whatever it takes close enough. Best of all, infamy doesn’t
began arranging them with his snout, • Fantasizes about unlimited success, require years of practice. By stretching the
eventually spelling E = mc2. The money, and power boundaries of the maxim “there’s no such
scientists are amazed. thing as bad publicity,” acting like the
The mathematician’s dog then runs to Narcissistic Personality Disorder is Supreme Leader of Douchemanistan will
the pile of bones and arranges them on a mental illness, so to be clear, I’m not garner greater notoriety then working to
the floor to form π = 3.14. The scientists diagnosing anybody. (I’m not qualified become a better musician.
are astounded and quickly scribble to. I just like to read the Diagnostic and Although I love music, I’ll scroll
copious notes in their journals. Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and through 20 videos of people playing
The musician’s dog eventually wakes think about how messed up my friends, guitar on Facebook, but will stop to
up from his nap, walks slowly over and coworkers, and strangers are.) But it’s not watch a video of Kanye West, Billie
eats all of the other dogs’ bones, has sex hard to imagine these NPD traits would Joe Armstrong, or the guy from Smash
with the other two dogs, takes a crap be helpful for someone pursuing a career Mouth acting like idiots. Idiocy draws
on the floor, and then asks if he can go in music. To crave attention, exaggerate consistently better than talent.
home early. your talents, and strive to win above all For many performers, being
The scientists write “hypothesis with no regard for others sounds like appreciated for your craft is the goal, but,
confirmed.” the battle cry of many who succeed in when that doesn’t work, being hated is
Why do musicians have a bad showbiz. Also, it’s no stretch that narcissists the second choice. Being ignored is the
reputation? Because we’ve earned it. would be attracted to a career onstage that, nightmare.
You don’t have to dig too deeply to find at the least, can reward you with praise Over 100 years ago, Joseph Conrad
examples of musicians behaving badly. and, at the most, can reward you with wrote about the fascination of the
Be it Ozzy or Izzy whizzing publicly praise, money, and power. According to abomination. We all slow down to get
(on the Alamo and in the galley of a the U.S. National Institutes of Health, 6.2 a better look at car wrecks, we all feel
commercial flight, respectively); Kid percent of the U.S. population has NPD, compelled to read about catastrophes,
Rock, Axl Rose, or Billie Joe Armstrong so it’s probable that a few are working and we enjoy a good celebrity meltdown.
randomly attacking fans; or any of the and succeeding as performing musicians. Maybe the compulsion to watch ugly
batshit crazy stuff Justin Bieber did in Still, NPD remains fairly uncommon, and behavior stems from our primitive wiring:
the past 24 hours, you’ll never run out there’s a huge difference between having We are drawn to cautionary tales because
of musicians living up to our lowest narcissistic personality disorder and just they ultimately aid in our survival.
expectations. being a garden-variety douche, or GVD. Whatever the reason, the populists love
Which makes me wonder: Why does It’s more likely that the musicians we to watch idiots and the shallow with
the ability to play music compel some see regularly in embarrassing TMZ videos limited talent love to give them a show.
musicians to act so douchey? are GVDs. In their defense, the music “Look at me, look at me, look at me, I’m
One could argue that the salient industry encourages it because: a celebrity.”
traits of douchebag musicians are also
textbook tells for people with Narcissistic 1. Press fuels success. JOHN BOHLINGER
is a Nashville musician who has
Personality Disorder. Take a look at this 2. The public loves watching a good led the band on NBC’s Nashville
checklist that health care professionals train wreck. Star and served as musical director
of the CMT Music Awards for the
use to diagnose NPD and compare it to last six years. In addition to his
the behavior of ego-driven, unpleasant Talent goes unnoticed and unrewarded “Last Call” column, John recently
joined PG as our full-time gear
musicians: more often then not, but dragging your demo/Rig Rundown video dude.

Premier Guitar ISSN 1945-077x (print) and ISSN 1945-0788 (online) is published monthly by Gearhead Communications, LLC. Principal office: 3 Research Center, Marion, IA 52302. Periodicals postage
paid at Marion, IA 52302 and at Additional Mailing Offices. © 2016 Gearhead Communications, LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited.
Premier Guitar are registered trademarks of Gearhead Communications, LLC. Subscribers: If the Postal Service alerts us that your magazine is undeliverable, we have no further obligation unless we
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Marion, IA 52302. Customer Service and subscriptions please call 877-704-4327 or email lois@premierguitar.com. Printed in USA. Volume 21 Issue 2 February 2016
From vintage guitars and used effects pedals to the latest boutique amps and
must-have accessories – Reverb.com has the gear you need to bring your sound
and your story to life.





a m u s i c a l i c o n t u r n s 1 00
c e l e b r at i n g t h e m a r t i n d r e a d n o u g h t g u i ta r

VOLUME 5 | 2016
M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | i
The H.M.S. Dreadnought was a battleship of the British Royal Navy that revolutionized
naval power. First entered into service in 1906, the Dreadnought represented such
a marked advance in naval technology that its name became synonymous with an
entire generation of battleships, the “dreadnoughts,” as well as the class of ships
named after it. The modern acoustic guitar developed by C. F. Martin & Co. in 1916
with a wide, deep body was named the Dreadnought after this iconic ship.
martin d-45








A Word from Chris


From the Community


By Jerry Zolten


By Jonathan R. Walsh


By David Schneider



By Mary Barbour


By Dick Boak



80. THE 1833 SHOP

John Renbourn


M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 6
UNDERSTATED AND SOLID “My new Koa Dreadnought custom is

IN THE HANDS OF JIM CROCE the most beautiful guitar I have ever
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OR RAMBLIN’ JACK ELLIOTT. “I bought my D-28 years ago because
I’VE ALWAYS LEANED TOWARD so many of my heroes played Martins,
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OF THE D-35.
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I GOT MY FIRST ONE, A 1977 MODEL, Their guitars have been played by

ABOUT 12 YEARS AGO, the best musicians of all time and

cross all music genres, so it’s still
pretty unreal that they asked me to
RE-FRETTING THEM AND collaborate on a custom model…
WEARING THEM OUT definitely something I can check off

AGAIN EVER SINCE.” my bucket list!” | Dierks Bentley


"I play my Martin every day. The most reliable, fun, and beautiful sounding guitar I’ve ever had!" | @StayTimeless
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“The construction quality, the quality of wood
used and the craftsmanship are superior, and
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PUBLISHER C. F. Martin & Co., Inc.

VOLUME 5 | 2016
TO MAKE THE BEST. DESIGN & PRODUCTION Lehigh Mining & Navigation
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P.O. Box 329, Nazareth, Pa. 18064
P. 610.759.2837
F. 610.759.5757
© 2016 C. F. Martin & Co., Inc., Nazareth, Pa.
All rights reserved.

“Because the moment you hear its sound,

all worries are gone.” Chris V. | South Africa

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 8


dreadnought (dred-nawt): noun

1. A type of battleship introduced in the The first thing I learned was that the war
early 20 century, larger and faster than its
th was fought more on land than at sea. Years
predecessors and equipped entirely with of ugly, bloody fighting took place in muddy
large-caliber guns. trenches along the borders of Germany,

2. A type of acoustic guitar with a larger body Belgium, France and Russia.

and louder sound than all previous guitars. Prior to the war, the British determined
that a new class of battleship was necessary
The Martin Dreadnought guitar celebrates its to remind the world that the sun never set
100th anniversary in 2016. It was named after on the British Empire, even though other
the British battleship Dreadnought, which also nations were vying for power.
celebrates its 110 th anniversary in 2016. The H.M.S. Dreadnought was commissioned
I remember asking my grandfather where in 1905 and put to sea in record time. It
the name Dreadnought came from. He said his incorporated the latest and greatest thinking
father, Frank Henry Martin, was a history buff in naval ship design.
and that he named our biggest guitar after Not since the Warrior, the Royal Navy’s first
the biggest British battleship ever made. ironclad warship, had anyone seen anything
In anticipation of the 100 anniversary of the
like it. The Dreadnought was so modern that
Martin Dreadnought, I decided to do a little it made obsolete all other previous battleships,
research. I must admit I didn’t know much about including those in the British fleet!
World War I.
The H.M.S. Dreadnought was the first
turbine-powered cruiser. The turbine
was powerful, efficient and could be run
at speeds greater than reciprocating
engines. It had ten 12-inch guns fitted
in pairs in turrets. They were powerful,
accurate and had an extended range. It
was the first “all big guns” ship.
The only significant naval battle of
World War I was the Battle of Jutland.
The Germans hoped to sneak out
of port and wreak havoc, but the
British codebreakers intercepted their
communications, and the British fleet
LE-HMSD 2015
responded. To this day, both sides
dispute the outcome of the battle. The
H.M.S. Dreadnought was in dry dock,
being upgraded to “super-Dreadnought"
The only battle the original Dreadnought
saw was when U-29, an infamous German
submarine, fired a torpedo at a sister
ship off the coast of Scotland in March of
1915 and the Dreadnought responded by
slicing the U-boat in half.
The British Dreadnought was the most
powerful battleship in the world when
i t wa s l a u n c h e d . I t b e ca m e t h e n ew
standard for design and construction.
Navies around the world copied its
I’m very proud that my ancestors
designed a guitar with similar qualities.


C. F. Martin IV
Chairman & CEO
C. F. Martin & Co., Inc.

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 10




“I was at Kurosawa Music in Tokyo looking at something completely different when I asked if they had a vintage
section. I browsed it for a moment before setting my eyes on a 1975 D-45 in pristine condition. I sat with it, and
as soon as I started strumming it, something completely different than I usually play came out. The thing about
me is that I don’t play any set thing on the guitar when I first pick it up, ever. I try not to have any habits that way.
I go where the guitar tells me to go, and this guitar took me up the California coast. I was suddenly discovering
these percussive, complex chord and rhythm patterns that I had never played before. And the whole thing shook
in the right way. I always say that a great guitar would feel just as great to play even if you had earplugs in. A lot
of the satisfaction of playing a great guitar comes via the resonance through your chest and arms. This thing was
so MELLOW and somehow through the years had developed this beautiful high end. Just the nicest high end, like
this throaty, harmonic treble without the tin. I bonded with it instantly, and it’s been my travel companion ever
since. You’ll be seeing a lot of it. I call her ‘Umi,’ which is the Japanese word for ‘beach.’ I went from Tokyo to
Santa Barbara in one strum of the guitar that day.” | John Mayer

“MY D-35
“A major portion of my self-taught musical education
comes from a deep appreciation for traditional bluegrass
and country music, both in which the Martin Dreadnought
sound plays a historical and paramount role. Its sound is
MASTERPIECE. as recognizable as a freight train, and in most traditional
I WILL circles, it’s an unspoken requirement.” | Sturgill Simpson


“MY D-28
“I own a Martin D-28, and it has the KNOWN
most important quality any guitar can SINCE
have: Every time I see it, it makes me
want to pick it up and play something.”
Colin P. | Massachusetts





“Most guitars bought are not with them forever,

but my Martin Dreadnought is a friend for life.”
Robin Z. | Illinois

“Just got an 000-15M, and I love it. Feels, plays,

looks great. Thanks for making an awesome guitar.”
@MattGolsen “If Martin Guitar has a flagship model,
it must be the D-28. It is a true classic
in every respect, from its size, shape,
wood and tonal qualities. The D-28
“THIS has an authority and presence that is
THING unmatched and often imitated, but
IS A seldom duplicated.” | John Oates


M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 12


Like old-world ballad songs, the Martin tradition of guitar

making crossed an ocean, took root on American shores,
and adapted as it grew to the clime of survival in a new
land. The journey was about freedom from restriction. In
19th century Germany, local violinmaker guilds attempted
to restrain craftsmen who were not members of their guild,
such as Christian Frederick Martin Sr., from making guitars,
dismissing Martin’s own guild as mere “cabinet-makers.”
More likely it was the competition they feared.
At a 1933 event in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, marking the
centennial of Martin Guitar in America, Frank Henry
Martin, third in the family to lead the company and
grandson of founder Christian Frederick Sr., offered
his assessment of his grandfather’s motivation.
“One hundred years ago in the fall of 1833, Christian
Frederick Martin landed in New York City with his wife,
one son Christian Frederick Jr., and an infant daughter.
What moved him to leave his home in Germany we can
only gather from records of what transpired there....
It is a fair assumption that he, in common with many
others of his time, felt dissatisfied with Old World
surroundings and longed for the freedom of a new
country.” (Nazareth Item, April 20, 1933)

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 14
Born of that newfound freedom came the business acumen and innovation that peaked in the development of the archetypal
American acoustic guitar, the Martin Dreadnought, now celebrating its own 100 years of existence. To call the Martin Dreadnought
iconic is neither cliché nor hyperbole. The cachet of Martin’s grand guitar—designated the “D” model—accrued over decades
and not coincidentally in parallel with the very evolution of American popular music from hill country ballads, string bands,
and country and western to blues, folk rock, and full tilt rock ‘n’ roll.
The Martin Dreadnought remains a central player in worldwide music and more lately in Americana, a relatively recent
genre that draws deeply from the we l l of A m e r i ca n ro ots m u s i c . Americana artist Seth Avett of the Avett Brothers calls
the Martin Dreadnought “the quintessential acoustic guitar; the blue-collar guitar, understated and solid in the hands.”
Singer/songwriter Dom Flemons, formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, likes how when he uses his Dreadnought on
stage he can jump from old timey to blues to reimagined rock ‘n’ roll. “It has ‘boom’ when you hit the strings, yet it is
delicate to play softly as well.” (Dom Flemons email April 27, 2015)
Vintage pre-war Martin Dreadnoughts are the stuff of many a guitar player ’ s dreams and can be stunningly valuable.
Marty Stuart is cut and dry: “I value my vintage Martin Dreadnought s i m p l y because it’s the finest acoustic guitar I’ve
ever played...Old wood sounds better.” Bill Amatneek, Acoustic Stories author and storyteller, poetically extols vintage Martin
Dreadnoughts as both tactile and utilitarian. “Beyond the beauty of handworked hardwoods, and mother-of-pearl inlay, the
checking on its finish—beyond all these, is utility. Here, decades old, is a graceful piece of handcraft—full hips, modest waist,
Brazil-tanned shoulders—that resonates more richly than ever, feels at home in your hands, and serves reliably as a working
instrument. That’s all you can ask.” (Bill Amatneek email, May 15, 2015)
Greg Reish, Director of the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, proffers the
pragmatic historic sweep. “The Martin Dreadnought has remained one of the primary tools of musicians across a staggeringly
wide range of styles and decades, a ubiquitous sound that has inspired brilliant artistry and musical innovation for a hundred
years. Indeed, there is no other branded specific acoustic instrument design...that has had such a far-reaching impact on
the development of popular musical expression in America—and by extension, the world.” (Greg Reish email, April 27, 2015)

No question the Martin Dreadnought is iconic, but was the guitar an immediate success when it was introduced in 1916? “It was
not!” says Chris Martin IV, Martin Guitar’s Chairman and CEO. Prior to the Dreadnought, “People were used to guitars that
could be cradled and did not project, but had a very balanced sound, the bass, the mid-range, and treble in proportion.” In fact,
he says, “The first Dreadnoughts were called ‘bass’ guitar because of their predominant bass sound.” Dick Boak, Director of
Museum, Archives, and Special Projects, describes the early fan-braced Dreadnoughts as “very obscure instruments that for a
long while did not sell very well at all.”
So, what was the place of the guitar in America before the Dreadnought? In 1916 when the Dreadnought was introduced,
C. F. Martin & Company had already been in business for more than 80 years. Clearly they were doing something right. That
“something” was a combination of knowing the market and providing uncompromisingly fine craftsmanship, always quality
over quantity. Martin did not sell directly to musicians but only through select Distributors and Dealers. The guitars they
crafted were small-bodied with gut strings and 12-fret necks. Model sizes evolved with the changing market. “Martin guitar
sizes progressed,” says Dick Boak, “from the tiny size 5 to sizes 4, 3, 2˙, 2 and 1. The smaller the number, the larger the size.
They ran out of numbers and used ‘0’ or ‘ought’ (as the Germans would say), then the slightly larger double-ought (00) and the
largest size—triple-ought (000).”
Contrary to perceived wisdom, guitars in that era were not common in Appalachia or among the rural working class. They
were rarely seen in vaudeville or in budding jazz simply because they could not be heard from the stage or in the mix with other
instruments. Guitars did have a sporadic presence in isolated regional pockets where self-made music was the only entertainment
or in aggregates along with fiddles and banjos playing for barn dances and social events or, given their portability, taken along
on the ride west by settlers. Ex-slave narratives speak of guitar playing among slaves who lived along the Mississippi Delta between
Memphis and New Orleans. (http://www.pbs.org/americanrootsmusic) Guitars played in these contexts, though, were not fine
instruments. They were usually purchased through mail order catalogs, make-do, cheap and, accordingly, poorly made.
In the years leading up to and in the early decades of the 20th century, the guitar was played primarily by women in high
society, the well-to-do living in East Coast cities or in Chicago or Los Angeles. Called “parlor” guitars, they were played where
they could be heard, in the intimate surroundings of sitting rooms where guests gathered to be entertained. President Andrew
Jackson’s wife, Rachel, (1767-1828) famously played the guitar in the White House.

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 16
Europe and especially Paris were looked to as
arbiters of refined ta ste. Stylized i m a ges o f
guitars appeared in paintings by Modigliani and
later Picasso. Spanish finger-style classicists
such as Andrés Segovia performed in recital halls.
In the United States, guitarist Vahdah Olcott-
Bickford wa s t h e r a g e among the f a s h i o n
set. Born Ethel Olcott in O h i o i n 1885, t h e
exot i c name “Vahdah” wa s g i v e n her by a
prominent astrologist for whom she worked
as an assistant. Her true métier, though, was
a s a guitar artiste. Olcott-Bi c k fo rd wa s a
t re n d sette r, archivist, a n d p ro m ote r of all
things guitar. When she died in 1980, her Los
Angeles home overflowed with sheet music,
co r res p o n d e n ce , a n d “ sta c k s of j o u r n a l s
s t a n d i n g fi ve fe et h i g h i n s o m e ro o m s. ”
Th e Vahdah Olcott-Bickford Collection now
forms t h e co re of t h e International Guitar
Research Archives at California State University,
Northridge. (http://articles.latimes.com/1998/
se p/ 2 1 / news/ss-25409)

Against that backdrop emerged the first Martin

Dreadnoughts. The impetus was rooted in, of all
things, the 1915 Panama-Pacific International
Exposition in San Francisco. The highlight of the
exposition was an exhibit from Hawaii featuring
a cast of native musicians in full island dress
performing on traditional stringed instruments.
Visitors to the exhibit thrilled at se e i n g a n d
hearing for the first time the u ku l e l e and its
precursor, a double-stringed uke that came to
Hawaii from Portugal, the taropatch, literally
translated, “rice field fiddle.”
Exposition visitors also heard guitar played in
a way that was both new and exciting. European
sa i l o rs h a d i nt ro d u ce d t h e i n st r u m e nt to
Hawaii, and over d e ca d es n at i ve m u s i c i a n s
had evolved the playing style so familiar today
but back then rarely heard off-island. They
p l aye d o n strings o f s t e e l t u n e d d o w n o r
“slackened” to allow for a variety of open chord
tunings. The guitar was held horizontally and
fingerpicked, chords and notes voiced by sliding
a metal bar on the strings. The Hawaiians called
it Ki ho’alu, the slack key steel-string guitar.
Kealakai Dreadnought
Courtesy of Greig Hutton
Major Kealakai

The Hawaiian craze spread virally nationwide. “There was a groundswell,” says Dick Boak. “Lots of Hawaiian bands with
ukulele, slide and regular guitar, and this steel-string phenomenon had an impact on Martin. People began requesting steel-
string guitars. Martin was accommodating but not really getting it at first.” Then there was an epiphany. The five-string
banjo had switched from gut to steel strings and, gaining in popularity, was considerably louder than the common gut-
string parlor guitar. They were simply drowned out. Then fate stepped in....
Slack key guitarist Major Kealakai, a sensation at the Pan-Pacific Hawaiian exhibit, was now based in Chicago and touring the
American vaudeville circuit with his troupe, the Royale Hawaiian Sextette. These were the days before microphones and sound
systems, and Major Kealakai wanted a guitar that could naturally project a richer sound from the stage. He contacted Martin
Guitar and ordered a stock “000,” at slightly more than 20 inches in length, the largest model offered by Martin at the time.
The “000” did not cut it, and so Kealakai ordered a second custom built guitar that, says Boak, “would use the basic ‘000’
shape but was proportionately larger." Developed that winter of 1916, the Martin Kealakai Dreadnought was 21 inches in
length with fan bracing, a 4-inch diameter soundhole, and a 20-fret neck with steel strings positioned high over the
fi n ge r b oa rd to a cco m m o d ate slide playing. On March 16, 1 9 16 , Martin s h i p p e d t h e “ ex t ra l a rge” n ew l y d es i g n ate d
Style 17 guitar, serial number 12210, to Major Kealakai in Chicago.
M a r t i n co l l a b o rate d on a sto ck D rea d n o u g ht with the Oliver Ditson C o m pa ny, a p rest i g i o u s music publisher and
instrument purveyor, originally located in Boston and later with branches in New York and Philadelphia. Frank Henry
Martin, then at the helm of the company, was “open-minded to any avenue of business that made sense,” says Boak.
“Because business was tough at that time, he tried things his father or g ra n d fat h e r would not have tried, i n c l u d i n g
collaborations with different companies to produce special lines of guitars.”
Representing Ditson was Harry Hunt, store manager and guitar specialist. Also involved in the collaboration was a young
but talented Martin factory worker, John Deichman, who Boak describes as a “skilled woodworker somewhat obsessive about
instruments and having caught the luthier bug, ready to dive in. Deichman,” says Boak, “most likely played a role in helping to
prototype the 12-fret Ditson Dreadnought.”
Deichman, who died in 1981, talked to guitarist John Pearse about his involvement with the Dreadnought project. As Pearse
relayed it, “One day when John was working at his bench, Harry Hunt...came by with Frank Martin. Spying the [Dreadnought-
sized] guitar Deichman was working on, Ditson took an immediate interest. He asked Martin to make him some with the same
body shape—but set up for standard Spanish style playing rather than Hawaiian.” (Pearse, Frets Magazine, May 1988, p. 48)
Martin factory records show the very first Ditson Dreadnought model shipped on August 8, 1916, and six more Dreadnoughts,
numbered 172 through 177, shipped to Ditson and Co. on December 30, 1916. The arrival of the Dreadnought was understatedly
announced in the August 1916 issue of Music Trade Review.
“A new steel guitar called the ‘Dreadnought,’ and said to produce the biggest tone of any instrument of its kind, is now being
used in the making of phonograph records. It is also said to be an excellent instrument for use in auditoriums and larger
halls....” (Music Trade Review, August 19, 1916, p. 47)

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 18
Ditson 111 c. 1929
The idea to call the new model “Dreadnought,” deck where everybody could see. The guitar The game changer for the Martin
as far as Chris Martin is concerned, originated metaphor is obvious,” he says. “Like the Dreadnought was the whirl of technological
with his great-grandfather, Frank Henry Martin. warship, anything prior is now obsolete, and innovation that led to the birth of commercial
Chris glowingly remembers talking about anything post that does not embrace these country music in the early 1930s. Radio
it with his grandfather, C. Frederick Martin new innovations will ultimately become broadcasts and 78 RPM phonograph records
III, Frank Henry’s son. “Until someone says obsolete. So, in 2016, not only do we were spreading sounds around like never
otherwise, I credit Frank Henry for choosing celebrate the centennial of the Dreadnought before, making stars of rural performers
the name ‘Dreadnought.’ That pear-shaped guitar, but also the 110th anniversary of the such as the Carter Family, whose story songs
design was collaborative, but I remember H.M.S. Dreadnought.” poignantly tugged at the heartstrings, or
my grandfather telling me that it was his The Martin Dreadnought guitar, visionary Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers, laying
father who, rather than giving it the usual though it was, did not catch on immediately. down hillbilly string band rhythms t h at
number, thought to name it ‘Dreadnought.’ Rather, that other Hawaiian instrument, the got people up and dancing. Also in the
For simplification in our records and on the ukulele, the voh-doh-de-oh-voh rage of the media mix was the Grand Ole Opry out of
guitar’s inside block, we used the designation Roaring ’20s, sustained and even led to a Nashville, Tennessee, at that time 10 years
‘D.’ And,” he emphatically adds, “it was not factory expansion for Martin & Company into popularizing country music nationwide
just a matter of coming up with a word during that slow period for the guitar. “While through far-reaching weekly radio broadcasts.
that started with the letter ‘D.’ Frank Martin 1,361 guitars were made in 1920,” said C. F. Finding favor at the heart of it all was the
was a history buff.” He was fascinated with Martin III in 1997, “about twice that number acoustic Martin Dreadnought steel-string
the H.M.S. Dreadnought, the game-changing of ukuleles was produced.” (S.M. Parkhill, guitar, its playability and deep projecting
British warship commissioned in 1906, The Morning Call, November 20, 1997) Ukes, sound the ideal rhythmic anchor for solo
state-of-the-art showpiece, its only action in though, eventually receded from fashion, vocalists or backing bands. “It was about
battle cutting a German submarine in half and as the 1930s rolled in, the guitar began performers standing around and needing
by running across its midsection. gradually to come back into its own. to project into a microphone that led to
Chris Martin is also caught up in the The D i tso n Company, awash in the the Dreadnought guitar taking off,” says
H.M.S. Dreadnought mystique. “If you dissect Depression a n d d u e to c h a n ges within, Dick Boak. “Martin’s ‘000’ 12-fret design
‘Dreadnought,’ it means ‘fear nothing.’ The was by 1931 out of the picture. Martin Guitar, morphed into the 14-fret ‘OM’ Orchestra
name was meant to remind people that however, owned the Dreadnought forms Model, and that 14-fret neck gradually found
Great Britain dominated the high seas and a n d patte r n s a n d had the wherewithal. its way onto the Dreadnought. That 14-fret
that British subjects anywhere in the world “Frank Henry Martin,” says Boak, “decided option was important!” To accommodate
should feel secure and protected. Same with to give it a shot. So, what we refer to now 14 clear frets, the Dreadnought body was
the guitar. Musicians feel secure behind it. as the Martin D-18S and the D-28S were shortened, the soundhole and pickguard
The Dreadnought has a look, a presence that p rototy p e d a s t h e 12-fret D-1 and D-2 moved closer to the bridge. The result was
says, ‘Hey, I’m not fooling around!’ ” models. The D-1 was built of mahogany a more versatile guitar that had a broader
Chris Martin is ebullient talking about the and spruce, the D-2 with rosewo o d a n d appeal because it could play a higher range
symbolic parallels between the warship and spruce. The n ow standard 14-fret neck of notes. “But most of all,” says Boak, “it
the guitar. “Could go faster than any ship. ve rs i o n s would be i nt ro d u ce d in 1934 just had incredibly powerful tone!”
Could go farther than any ship. Had the as the D-18 and D-28, and vo i l à —the
largest available 12-inch guns mounted on modern guitar was b o r n . ”

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 20
Also paramount to the Martin Dreadnought’s desirability were the first country music superstars, high-profile, highly visible
performers such as Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933) and Gene Autry (1907-1998). Jimmie Rodgers of Meridian, Mississippi, the
“Singing Brakeman,” the “Father of Country Music,” traveled to Tennessee in 1927 to record for Ralph Peer at the now famous
“Bristol Sessions,” which launched country music as a big business enterprise. Rodgers played a Martin 00-18 on his first
recordings, but, with enormous success as a professional touring artist, wanted a guitar that matched his newfound status.
Rodgers ordered a custom Martin 000-45 with his name in square letters inlaid in pearl on the neck and the upside down
word “Thanks” on the guitar’s back for audiences to see when he flipped the guitar around at the close of his show.
In a 1927 note to C. F. Martin & Company inquiring about the cost of “three or four hundred ukuleles” to sell at fair concessions
in conjunction with his appearances, Jimmie Rodgers added this postscript: “I want to say that I am a Martin booster. I think
you people make the best...guitar in the world. The reason I can say this is that I have owned stringed instruments from every
country and that Martin is the best.” (From the Martin Archives, September 12, 1927)
Idolizing Jimmie Rodgers, Gene Autry followed brilliantly in his footsteps. As a recording and touring artist, radio broadcaster,
and Hollywood’s top “singing cowboy” movie star, Autry’s public profile was prodigious. In his day, Autry transcended
musical stardom and became a bona fide, bar none American show biz icon.
Like Rodgers, Autry, sold on Martin guitars, wrote several times to the company. In 1929, he sent a note from his home in
Oklahoma. “I have used several guitars in vaudeville, radio, and other entertaining, and I prefer a Martin to any of them.” (From
the Martin Archives, September 12, 1929) His career then took him to Chicago, the hub for Midwestern radio broadcasting. From

there Autry sent an autographed photo along with a little self-plugging. “I am doing a lot of theatrical work around here. Now I
also am on radio three times a day. Try and hear me sometime WLS 9:20 AM, on WJJD at 7 AM and 7:30 PM for International
Heating Company.” (From the Martin Archives, undated circa 1929)
In 1933 just as he was about to enter films, Autry ordered a custom-made Martin Dreadnought. Given the guitar’s historic
significance, the order form from the Chicago Musical Instrument Company was starkly unassuming: “one Gtr D-45 with
special inlaid fingerboard” and “extra for pearl head and bridge inlay.” The Gene Autry Dreadnought with his name in scroll
pearl inlay on the 12-fret neck was the first D-45. One of the most valuable of American acoustic guitars, it is currently on
permanent display at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles.
No question the Martin “D” models had a quality, look, and sound that were their own best advertising. To play one was to
want to own one. What would become foundational to a true earned legacy, however, required the sincere unsolicited choices
of transformative artists to conspicuously perform with a range of standard and customized Martin Dreadnoughts. Jimmie
Rodgers and Gene Autry, with high visibility, were the cornerstones later built upon by giants from Hank Williams and Kitty
Wells to the Dreadnought sound featured in bands fronted by Roy Acuff or Bill Monroe, the "Father of Bluegrass," who kept a
Martin D-28 on hand in case his current guitar player didn’t own one.

The Dreadnought had from the start an imposing stage p rese n ce. Imagine looking up at the stage, the eyes instinctively
drawn to t h at g ra n d g u i ta r, pearl inlay rippling in the spotlight. “There’s an attitude with a Dreadnought,” says Fred Greene,
Martin Guitar’s VP of Domestic Manufacturing. “When I see someone come out with a D-28, I’m thinking, this guy’s coming to
kick some butt with a guitar!” The guitar formidably large, front and center lashed across the chest, both weapon and protective
shield. “I feel safe with a Martin D-35,” Johnny Cash once said.
Then there was the publicity machine prolifically cranking out umpteen 8" x 11" glossy publicity photos, songbooks and souvenirs, artist
portrayed with guitar proudly in hand, the plain, squared-off headstock instantly identifiable as a Martin. Gene Autry on the larger-than-
life silver screen astride his horse Champion playing his Martin D-45. The visual imagery, however, was not limited to superstar legends. It also
trickled down tellingly to myriad regional country-style performers across the land whose own publicity photos strategically displayed
the instruments they played. A Martin Dreadnought in the picture was intended to telegraph instant prestige.
From the 1930s well into the 1960s, thousands in each successive generation of guitar players and wannabe stars set their sights on
owning a Martin Dreadnought. “Deep down every guitar player harbors a fantasy of owning a Martin Dreadnought,” says Fred
Greene. And so in 1954, Elvis Presley turned Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” into rock ‘n’ roll and then bought himself a step-up
series of Martin guitars from a “000” to a D-18 to his famously encased in embossed leather D-28.
That dynamic still holds true on the centennial of the Dreadnought. “I bought my D-28 years ago,” says country singer Dierks
Bentley, “because so many of my heroes...the best musicians of all time and cross all music genres...played Martins.”
The rise of the Martin Dreadnought has not been without bumps in the road, including shifts in musical trends and, early on,
structural issues. In the Dreadnought’s first decades, for instance, it became clear that scalloped bracing did not hold up in
Dreadnought-sized guitars. Chris Martin points out that back then guitarists wanting to enhance sound beyond the size of the body
started using heavier gauge strings. “Put them on, play some rhythm, and you are going to wail. Bottom line, though, heavy gauge
strings and scalloped bracing just did not mix.”
"Pre-war Dreadnoughts,” says Fred Greene, “were lightly built, to use a guitar player’s term, on the edge of blowing up. They were
built for speed like a race car, tuned right on the edge, and what made them so fast, so good, also made them temperamental.”
“The fix,” says Chris Martin, “was to stop scalloping the bracing and beef up the top with stronger X-bracing.” The switch was
phased in starting around 1945. “The placement of the bracing was made heavier,” says Fred Greene, “and the X-bracing was
shifted backwards to stabilize the center of the guitar.” The remedy stopped pull-ups and bubbling in front of the bridge, but
also changed the character of the sound, some contend only differently and others, detrimentally.

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 22
In recent years, though, mindful of the ongoing
d es i re for that vintage Dreadnought sound,
Chris Martin, like his forebears, was open to
possibilities. When Fred Greene joined Martin in
2004, there was talk within the company about
preserving the old guitar making techniques. From
that arose the “Authentic Project,” basically,
says Greene, "where we’d make it totally like an
old guitar. Hand-carved neck, hide glue, all the
techniques we’d gotten away from over the years.”
Then came the Martin Custom Shop. “The goal
was to take the elements over time that made a
pre-War guitar sound great—warts and all—and do
it all over again.” The inaugural project was the
regeneration of a 1937 D-18. “We X-rayed the models,
got all the specifications, and recreated everything
in that guitar.”
There was, though, one prime ingredient beyond
mere arithmetic specification that made for the
classic vintage Martin Dreadnought sound—the
aged spruce top. “Wood dries out over time,” says
Greene, “and that makes it denser and better
as a medium for conducting sound waves.” The
Custom Shop can now incorporate that elusive
element through a measured process of heating raw
wood called “torrefaction.” “The idea,” says Greene,
"is to replicate what goes on gradually in the aging
process. Heating the wood evaporates the moisture
from within the cells and that leads to a rich look
and sound. In the process, the spruce top actually
becomes more stable.”
The fortunes of Martin Guitar, along with the
Dreadnought, have always been subject to cycles
of popularity, the interest in acoustic guitar
sometimes barely simmering only to be again set
boiling by one musical trend or another.
The “folk boom” of the 1950s and early ’60s
generated enormous interest in acoustic guitar
playing. Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Leadbelly,
the Weavers, and others opened the way for the
Kingston Trio; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Jack Elliott;
Joan Baez; Phil Ochs; Bob Dylan; and many more.
True traditionalists such as Doc Watson, Elizabeth
Cotten, and Mississippi John Hurt put the guitar
front and center on record albums and worldwide
festival and concert stages. Featured on The Andy
Griffith Show and The Beverly Hillbillies, hit TV
shows of the day, was bluegrass from Clarence and
2016 D-222 100 th Anniversary
Roland White and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.

The primacy of the Martin Dreadnought was especially reinforced by the emergence of “folk rock” in the 1960s. “These were musicians,"
says Chris Martin, “who had a message. They wanted to say something, and they recognized that the Martin Dreadnought was the
way to communicate that message.” Crosby, Stills, and Nash. The Byrds. The Eagles. Jackson Browne. Linda Ronstadt. Joni Mitchell.
Bonnie Raitt. Neil Young. “‘Heart of Gold,’” says Fred Greene, “wouldn’t sound like it does without a Martin Dreadnought.” Seeing
the possibilities, mainstream rock ‘n’ rollers from the Beach Boys and the Beatles to the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin began
incorporating the acoustic Dreadnought into their otherwise amped sound. Even the dormant "King of Rock ‘n’ Roll," Elvis
Presley, chose to come back to life in an “unplugged” performance in his widely viewed 1968 television Comeback Special.
Inevitably, though, the tide turned. The acoustic guitar as a popular instrument “fell off a cliff at the end of the folk rock era in the
late 1970s that lasted well into the 1980s,” reflects Chris Martin. He attributes the crash to both economic turmoil and the rise of
electronic disco and digital sampling keyboards. “Some people back then were saying this is the beginning of the end of the
acoustic guitar. Fortunately, they were wrong!”
The turnaround was sparked in part by the release in 2000 of the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? Set in the 1930s, the film
introduced a young generation to traditional American roots music through an engaging cast of characters—many of them acoustic
guitar players—and a soundtrack album that sold over seven million. In the decade and a half since, the Martin Dreadnought has
remained indelibly at the heart of pop music making. Fred Greene couches it in “a desire to get back to something organic and
natural, not wanting something fancy. Acoustic guitars that have a Depression-era feel to them,” but also in keeping with the more
contemporary spirit of, say, John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” or Bruce Springsteen’s “Jack of All Trades.”
“Looking back on a hundred years,” says Greene, “think how different American pop music would sound without the Martin
Dreadnought guitar. It just wouldn’t be what it is. I don’t think anybody knew when it started what it would become. The
character of American pop music owes much to the Dreadnought.”
Martin’s world-renowned Custom Shop, which Fred Greene oversees, has stayed true to the company’s traditionally open-minded
business model by being responsive to what guitar players want. Martin Guitar continues to craft Dreadnoughts that honor legacy
artists such as Jimmie Rodgers, Gene Autry, Hank Williams, Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb, Porter Wagoner, and Johnny Cash. The
Custom Shop also offers “signature” Dreadnought variations designed by or in tribute to artists from across the American pop music
spectrum including Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie, and Joan Baez; folk rockers Stephen Stills, David Crosby, and Jim McGuinn; blues
artists Buddy Guy, Keb’ Mo’, Rory Block, and John Mayer; country stars Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett, and Travis Tritt; Americana
artists Rosanne Carter Cash, Steve Earle, Seth Avett of the Avett Brothers, Jason Isbell, and Sturgill Simpson; rockers Eric Clapton,
Sting, Jeff Tweedy, Beck, and Trey Anastasio.
Chris Martin understands the deep resonance of his family legacy and its crown jewel, the Martin Dreadnought guitar. “I am very
proud of the fact that the Martin Dreadnought is probably the most copied shape of guitar on earth! I’m okay with that,” he says
kicking back with a laugh of satisfaction. “The Dreadnought, I don’t think, will ever go away. My grandfather called it when he said,
‘that’s our bread and butter.’ It has such a deep and rich history. Is the term ‘iconic’ overused?”

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 24
Replica model of the
British Royal Navy’s H.M.S. Dreadnought
M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 26
27 Photo courtesySIMPSON:
| STURGILL of Crackerfarm


“I think you and I both know that if I shopped this around they
would’ve looked at me like I was crazy,” Sturgill Simpson says
about his most recent album, sleeper hit Metamodern Sounds in
Country Music. It’s sold over 110,000 copies, earned a Grammy
nomination, and led to television appearances with the likes of
David Letterman and Conan O’Brien—but it’s true. It is a record
that touches on the inevitability of death, lauds inner peace over R.
drinking, critiques the media at every turn, and in some ways WA LS H
sounds more at home in 1975 than 2015. Although it has more
in co m m o n with what many of us think of when we think of
country music—Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings,
the Fo g g y Mountain Boys—Metamodern doesn’t sound like
what’s topping the country charts today.
Part of the reason, says Simpson, is that the term “country”
“sort of got hijacked by pop, and it’s guilty by association at
this point. So when people say, ‘What kind of music do you
play?’—it happens all the time, you meet strangers at airports
who see a guitar—I feel this sort of speed bump coming when I
get to the c-word, because you see it on their faces. They’re like,
‘Oh, I don’t really listen to that.’ And you don’t want to sit there
and try to explain, ‘Well no, it’s alt-country and der-der-der.
Just shoot me in the face with a BB gun, man.’”

Sturgill Simpson
Martin D-28

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 28
A N D I R E A L LY It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when country
music became a four-letter word, but for a
WA N T E D TO lot of people growing up in the ’80s and ’90s,

MAK E A R E A L, the common phrase “I listen to anything but

rap or country” was shorthand for “I like

U NA P OLO G E T IC anything that isn’t terrible.” It might have

started when Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky
COU N T RY Heart”—currently on not one but two lists
of the worst songs of all-time—topped the
R ECO RD country charts for five weeks in 1992 (not

FO R P EO P L E coincidentally, the same year that Kris Kross’s

“Jump” topped the Billboard Hot 100 for

W H O DO N’T eight weeks, despite lyrics like I’ll make ya

rump rump wiggle and shake your rump. Or
E V E N K NOW maybe it started six months earlier, when
Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became
THEY LI K E the number one rock song in the U.S. and
introduced a generation of music listeners to
the promise of alternative music, and later to

MUSIC, independent labels. Whenever it happened,

at some point country music seemed to drop
OR HAD i ts o u t l aw heritage completely—from the
man in black to Waylon and Willie—in favor of
NEVER tracks like “Red Solo Cup” and “Honky Tonk
Badonkadonk,” autotune, and teeth whitener.
H EA RD While major labels continued to produce

I T.” the world’s biggest records, independent

labels endeavored to produce some of the
best, by artists willing to spend years touring,
recording, and releasing music for little to
no money. And in the 23 years since “Achy
B rea ky ” stu c k to everyone’s radio like a
barnacle, that independent ecosystem has
thrived. The Coachella Music Festival, once
a bastion for indie bands, is in danger of
becoming the establishment with sponsors
like American Express and Samsung; in 2011,
the Grammy Award for Album of the Year
went to an independent record (The Suburbs,
by Arcade Fire, was released on North Carolina
independent label Merge Records).


It may not come as a surprise, then, that for people who don’t even know they like That tape trickery is allowed to run wide
two of last year’s most talked-about records country music, or had never heard it.” open on the penultimate track, “It Ain’t
among critics and fans were independent An unapologetic country record is just All Flowers”: snare drums start running
releases. What is surprising is that they what Metamodern is. Produced by Cobb ba c kwa rd s, fe e d ba c k s n a ps f ro m t h e
weren’t indie rock records, but hip-hop (who has produced records by Jason left channel to the right, and space and
and country: Run the Jewels 2, from duo Isbell and Shooter Jennings, and with time are squashed together by a tube
Run the Jewels on indie M a ss Appeal whom Simpson worked on his previous co m p resso r a n d h a rd -worked mixing
Records, and Metamodern, which Simpson record, High Top Mountain) in Nashville, board. “It’s all outdated techniques,” says
released through his own label, High Top Metamodern drips with analog warmth, Simpson, “but we had a lot of fun trying
Mountain. The same group of kids who said rich slides, a funked-up rhythm section, to emulate something like dubstep.”
they liked “anything but rap or country” and Telecaster twang, all built around This is the type of adventurousness that
back in 1992 is rediscovering just that. Simpson’s two most powerful instruments: would’ve made record executives look at
“Oh man, I love the Run the Jewels record, his voice and his Martin Dreadnought. Simpson cockeyed if he’d tried to have
are you kidding me?” Sturgill Simpson says Across eight tracks, he creates a sound it released on a major label rather than
when we speak on the phone this past that is at once familiar and hard to place. putting it out himself, and it’s the growing
spring. “I think a lot of people on the [tour] There are plenty of nods to the outlaw ecosystem of independent music that’s
bus are kind of burnt out on that—I kind country of the ’60s and ’70s—“Life of Sin” helped it become such a big success. But,
of wore it out the first couple weeks.” and a rendition of Buford Abner’s “Long says Simpson, “Nobody’s running to the
It’s late April, and Simpson is in Virginia White Line,” especially—but like many penthouse suite just yet.”
for the last show of roughly a year and a of the best albums, all of the tracks “I feel like we basically clawed our
half of nonstop touring, before taking a on Metamodern feel like classics while way to the beginning,” Simpson says.
month off to spend time with his family sounding entirely new. “Perception’s funny, you know. You get
in Nashville. He’ll be back on the road in While Metamodern shares some of the some press in magazines and stuff and—
June for another four months of concerts same DNA as its outlaw predecessors, especially people back home or people
that will take him across seven countries, it’s a matter of using key ingredients— from high school you haven’t heard from in
as he continues to ride the unexpected that funky rhythm section, a Southern 15 years—all of a sudden they still have your
wave of success brought about by the perspective, a few great chicken-pickin’ phone number somehow, and they all think
release of Metamodern. But for now, one leads, and a lot of disregard for authority— you made it. But your life hasn’t changed all
of today’s most exciting country artists is to come up with a completely new recipe. that much; it’s just now there’s people at
very much into some of hip-hop’s most “A Little Light Within,” for instance, sounds the shows, and they know the words, and
exciting producers. “I think it’s genius. like classic gospel with a dose of modern they’re singing along, and they’re buying
The production’s really incredible —it metaphysical grit thrown in from Simpson albums, and that allows you to continue to
really feels like he’s got his finger on the and the band to create something that do it without living like a pauper.”
pulse of right now,” says Simpson of Run feels a little like the Carter Family on
the Jewels’ El-P. To have a country record uppers. The next track, “Just Let Go,”
like his considered alongside some of could be equal parts Otis Redding and
the year’s most lauded hip-hop, Simpson Willie Nelson, and perhaps a touch of U2’s
says, “makes me feel like, ‘mission best, with some sitar-like droning and tape
accomplished.’ I mean, that was always the trickery that harkens back to either late-
goal—Dave [Cobb] and I really wanted to era Beatles or the Beastie Boys, depending
make a real, unapologetic country record on your frame of reference.

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 30
Photo courtesy of Crackerfarm

Simpson was born in Jackson, Kentucky, near the center of the state’s Eastern Coal Field, and raised in nearby Versailles.
There, he says, music wasn’t so much a vocation as simply a way of life; his grandfathers first taught him to play bluegrass
when he was a boy. After school, he served three years in the U.S. Navy before eventually moving to Utah to take a job
working for the railroad: “A good job,” as he puts it, “good pay, worked outside.”
Simpson played music throughout his life, but his career first started to build momentum around 2011, when his band,
bluegrass outfit Sunday Valley—a favorite in the underground country scene—joined the independent landscape and released
their 2011 album, To the Wind and On to Heaven, themselves. After eight years of building a reputation as one of Kentucky’s
most exciting artists, Simpson put his reputation with Sunday Valley on the line to strike out on his own with the release of
his first solo record, High Top Mountain.
“It was received well critically, on a very small level, and by people on social media who shared the work,” says Simpson
of that first record. For those who heard it, High Top was a favorite, but after the enormous amount of effort that went into
promoting it, and the relative lack of mainstream popularity that followed, he thought his follow-up record would be his last.
“When I put Metamodern out, we were making some money from the road, so I was able to hire a publicist for the record
release, but I honestly thought that would be the last record I made,” he says. “Just because, with a child coming, and being
older, it’s time to start looking at things a little more practically. So we went in to make [Metamodern] with me fully expecting
it to be the last one, which, in a lot of ways, maybe is the reason we made the record we did—because we felt like we didn’t have
anything to lose. I certainly didn’t feel like I had a career to lose.”
Letting go of career hang-ups, Simpson says, was “a very freeing feeling,” and allowed him to follow his eclectic musical
instincts unabashedly. That freedom was reflected in Metamodern’s recording process, which was as spontaneous and inspired
as the record itself: “We just came off the road and had the week off; Dave had that week open, and so we just sort of jumped
in there. I had like three or four songs written—things we’d been playing on the road that were already tested and arranged—
and ended up writing the other three or four songs during the week we were in the studio,” says Simpson. “But the band was
good; we just came off tour, so it was easy. Most of this stuff was second, third, fourth take.”



[ M ETA M O D E R N ]


W H I C H , I N A L O T O F WAY S ,



W E D I D — B E C AU S E







A C A R E E R T O L O S E.”

If the electric sound of a road-tested band coming together on tape sounds a little closer to Stax Records in Memphis than it
does to Nashville, the comparison is apt: “I honestly consider myself a soul musician,” says Simpson. But, raised on bluegrass
and country in the rugged heart of Appalachia, he simply has country music in his blood. “When I sit down to write, that’s just
what comes out,” he says, “so, I don’t know, country-soul maybe.”
Country-soul is a good description for Simpson’s rhythm section: bass player Kevin Black (who also played in Sunday Valley)
and drummer Miles Miller, who make country danceable in a way it hasn’t been since Waylon Jennings covered J.J. Cale’s “Clyde”
back in 1980. And it might be that infectious rhythm that’s responsible for most of the references to outlaw artists like Waylon
that critics like to reach for. Like the stars of the past, Simpson’s influences span not only decades but genres, just as the outlaw
stars of the late 1970s were doing as country’s rise crossed paths with the apexes of funk and disco. “Everything was about the
clubs and dancing,” Simpson says about that era. “Even the Stones put the disco beat on stuff. I was born in ’78, so the first four
or five years of my life in my mom’s car on the radio, of course it was just bombarded on me. I mean, Michael Jackson—I was
obsessed with Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall and Thriller when I was a little kid. I love a lot of funk and old soul music—I just
like funky music [in general], so I guess that is a lot of where the Waylon thing comes from,” he says. “You put that four-four
disco beat on a country tune, of course it’s gonna sound like Waylon—he was the boss.”
If Simpson’s rhythm section has managed to bring groove back to country, his lead guitar player, Laur Joamets—an Estonian ex-
pat known in country circles as Lil’ Joe—has helped add some much-needed heart and grit. “Joe’s a classically trained musician.
He was a cellist, so he hears music in textures and melody, and everything’s a build,” says Simpson. “It’s really been fascinating,
because he never played country until about a year ago—he’s incorporating all these ideas into something he’s really just kind of
wrapping his head around and running away with.” What drew Simpson to Joamets seems to be a part of what sets his own music
apart from much of what’s on the radio. “His playing is very melodic and well thought out,” he says, “I think that’s why I love
him so much. There are so many hot pickers in Nashville, but they just throw like four thousand notes at you in an 18-bar solo
and you don’t even know what the hell just happened. You’re like, ‘I’m impressed, I get it, but what did you really just say?’ You
should be able to hum a good guitar solo.”

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 32
It’s good advice, and something Simpson “I picked up a couple 12-fret older model Simpson and fellow Martin Ambassador
learned from experience. His electric guitar Dreadnoughts in the stores, and they just Jason Isbell (who releases music under
playing turned more than a few heads when felt like more resonant, louder guitars. And his own Southeastern Records label) are
he was in Sunday Valley, and certainly still then I saw the Ditson in the Martin Museum gaining traction, competing for listeners
could today. But he’s opted to focus on his when I toured the factory and just kind of fell against a major label’s massive budget
singing and flat-top playing because, as he in love with the simplicity of the aesthetic means that one of the biggest challenges
puts it: “Moving to Nashville, I just realized of it. No bells or whistles, just a workhorse. is simply being heard. “I just don’t have a
I wasn’t a guitar player, and that I was never This one’s really alive already, I can tell, and million dollars to go ask the radio to play
going to be a guitar player because I didn’t I’m excited to hear it in a couple of years. my song,” Simpson says. But, he adds, “If
feel like I was actually saying anything with I really would like to meet the luthiers who there’s a way to get enough of that stuff
it. Once I started focusing on writing, and, made it, ’cause it’s just an absolute tank. to the masses—because sometimes it’s
more importantly, singing, I felt like that It sounds like a cannon.” hard to find, and a lot of music lovers are
was a much more powerful instrument for Because his new guitar is a slot head, pretty dedicated in terms of the hunt—I
me to really express myself than playing a restringing has had a bit of a learning curve. think some of the bigger labels are going
Telecaster was ever going to be.” But still, he says, “I find it very relaxing, to see a reaction to what’s been going on,
His acoustic of choice for roughly the past changing strings.” Without a guitar tech, it’s and they’re going to have to do something,
15 years has been an HD-28VR (known today a ritual he repeats every few days. His set to realize that maybe they can survive
simply as an HD-28V). “I bought my D-28 at of choice is Martin phosphor bronze 13s, and make money selling honest and real
Gruhn in Nashville,” says Simpson. “I traded and he’s a fan of Martin’s new treatment music,” says Simpson. “And people are
two electrics and an amp and some other technique: “They gave me these new SP starving for it.”
stuff, and then still put some money down to Lifespans ; they’re great. They usually last
That may not be far off: In January 2015,
get that thing, but it was…I don’t know, it was a couple shows, and then, because I have he was picked up by Atlantic Records,
the One. It wasn’t fancy or old or anything, it stainless steel frets on the guitar, I usually and soon his particular brand of thinking-
just sounded really balanced in the store when swap them out after a second show—three, man’s country will be crossing airwaves
I bought it.” He even carved his name into it to if I’m really feeling brave. I tend to not break and wireless connections to a much larger
ensure he’d never let it go, and has held onto them, so it’s more superstition at this point.” audience. So has the fairly meteoric rise
it ever since. “It just has a really cool thing In the annals of music history, Nirvana of the past 12 months shaken him? “No,
going on right now, so I like to use it in every is often considered the opening salvo in because I am older, and grounded, and
studio and at home—it’s about to wear another independent music’s battle for mainstream have my head on straight, and I’m kind of
hole through below the pickguard. And now,” acceptance. Their first full-length, Bleach, just enjoying it, and having fun,” he says.
he says, since becoming a Martin Ambassador was released on Seattle indie Sub Pop “I love all the guys in the band, my wife’s
and getting a new custom guitar, “I’ve got Records. But their follow-up, Nevermind, very supportive, and it’s providing for my
t h e Two, I g u ess. Bu t t h e Two i s q u i c k l y as Simpson points out, “was on your FM family. I could use a few more days at
becoming the One.” station; it was top 40, and it was a major home, especially with a newborn baby—
The Two is a Ditson-style Dreadnought label release. And now the c h a n ces sometimes that gets tough. But I just feel very
inspired by the original Martins built in the of so m et h i n g l i ke t h at kind of have fortunate and lucky. We’re just happy to be
late 1920s, with a mahogany back and sides t o b e a much more finite shot.” While showing up to play shows; and not only are
and a souped-up slab of Vintage Tone System independent music is larger than it has there people in the seats, but they actually
(VTS) Adirondack spruce for the top. “I like ever been, it’s still just a fraction of know the words to the songs, and you can
a lot of bottom end, because I’m primarily a the overall market—especially when it see that it makes them happy. It makes it a
rhythm player and a singer,” says Simpson. comes to country. Though artists like lot easier to be away from home so much.”


On Metamodern’s third track, “Living the
Dream,” Simpson sings: Son if you ain’t THE DI TSON
having fun just wait a little while / Momma’s
gonna wash it all away / And she thinks
Mercy’s overrated (a line that he says “was
me kind of nodding my hat to one of my
favorite lyricists, [Tool’s] Maynard James WHEN I
Keenan”), and it’s a good metaphor for
life as an independent artist. Without a TOU R E D
label’s bottom line to worry about, there’s
nothing for a songwriter to do but whatever
he or she chooses, and the result is music
that is creative, honest, and often some
of the most lasting. It’s a sentiment that K I N D OF
underpins all the songs on Metamodern: to
stay true to ourselves, before our time is FELL IN LOVE
up. Professionally, it’s also a risky one—it’s
always safer to hedge our bets. In Simpson’s
case, his instincts are paying off, but it’s
easy to wonder if becoming a major-label
artist will mean cleaning up his act. There’s OF THE
little reason to worry, though; Simpson’s
made a living out of doing it his own way for AESTHETIC
years. I don’t need to change my strings, he
sings elsewhere on the song, The dirt don’t
hurt the way I sing.

Sturgill Simpson’s album Metamodern Sounds in

Country Music is currently available everywhere.


Sturgill’s choice:
SP Lifespan 7200
Phosphor Bronze

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 34
meet the family

New Look. Six Envelopes. Long-lasting Tone.

The same Martin Strings you fell in love with in the first place.

Learn more about the family of Martin strings at martinstrings.com.


Something More Than Free
martinstrings.com/LifeSpanSP Available everywhere
M A R T I N G U I TA R . Cjasonisbell.com
O M | 36

Ask Del McCoury a question about himself, and there’s a good chance you’ll hear a story about

someone else. This tendency reveals much about him; he’s a man whose lengthy road to success
was paved with comity and cooperation, and pure passion for bluegrass music. Despite the
number of famous names whose paths have crossed his—Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Alan Lomax,
Ralph Rinzler, and many others—there’s never a hint of immodesty or shrewdness in McCoury’s
storytelling. He’s not trying to cement a legacy or steer you towards a certain impression; he’s
got no records to set straight or points of contention to clarify—he’s just telling you how one thing
led to another over the course of a 50-year career that isn’t showing any signs of slowing down,
and that may well still be cresting at its peak.

Del McCoury
Martin D-28

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 38
As the namesake and bandleader of the Del fans (or “Del-Heads”) but also artists from could play with him, so I learned mostly
McCoury Band, McCoury is both figuratively a wide spectrum of genres: Phish, Steve from my brother Grover Cleveland II—
and literally a father figure in the world of Earle, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, h e wa s n a m e d a f te r my d a d , a n d we
bluegrass. Not only is the band comprised to name just a few. At 76, Del McCoury is called him G.C. for short.” McCoury liked
of two generations of McCourys—his sons, undeniably a living legend, “living”—vital, picking up the basics on guitar, but says
Ronnie and Rob, have been full-time members awake, alive—being the operative word, his relationship to music changed the
since the ’80s—but McCoury’s connection with a full schedule of performances, festival day that G.C. brought home a Flatt and
to bluegrass traces directly back to the appearances, recording sessions, and Scruggs album: “I had heard the old-time
u n d i s p u te d “ Fat h e r of Bl u e g ra ss” : Bi l l collaborations underway. The Del McCoury banjo players, and that didn’t really
Monroe. With his thick head of silver hair, Band’s most recent album, 2013’s The impress me, but the three-finger style
dulcet chuckle and avuncular manner, this Streets of Baltimore, took home a Grammy that Earl was doing—I was just a certain
paternal role is one that seems to fit McCoury for Best Bluegrass Album, and the 2015 age and it hit me like a ton of bricks.”
well, but he’s not some old-timer who worries DelFest, a music festival he founded in He promptly abandoned the guitar in
too much about the way things used to Cumberland County, Maryland, which is favor of the banjo, which he practiced
be. Though bluegrass is a comparatively now in its eighth year, was a huge success, tirelessly in pursuit of that Earl Scruggs
traditional style of music compared to featuring top-tier talent and international sound. After honing his chops, it wasn’t
some—and the Del McCoury Band plays it audiences. I caught up with McCoury on an long before McCoury was asked to play
straight with the five crisply-suited band uncharacteristically quiet Sunday afternoon banjo for Keith Daniels of Keith Daniels
members often gathered around a single during a break between touring jaunts, a n d t h e Bl u e Ridge Ramblers, which
microphone—he seems more interested a n d over the course of two hours, we marked the start of a long and winding
in looking forward than looking back. But talked about the key people and events journey in bluegrass.
while McCoury experienced some success that led him where he is today. Naturally, “That was the first time I ever played
early, he didn’t truly hit his stride until the it all began at home with his family. outside the little area where I lived,”
early ’90s, after two decades spent working in “They were mountain people—my dad McCoury says about his time with Daniels.
the logging and timber industries by day and and my mom both were from Mitchell Through him, McCoury met a host of
gigging on nights and weekends. However, County, North Carolina, and for those fellow musicians, and eventually found
McCoury’s story isn’t one of struggle and mountain people, it seemed like music himself helping out Bill Monroe on banjo
perseverance, but rather one of p l ay i n g was just always a part of their lives. My for a gig in New York City. Afterward,
a n d l i v i n g , l i v i n g a n d p l ay i n g . He recalls, dad always told me that all his people Monroe approached McCoury and offered
“I remember playing music and not getting e v e r had done wa s fo x h u n t a n d p l ay him a spot in the band, but not as banjo
back in until daylight and then going straight music.” Interestingly, though, McCoury’s player—which McCoury had been playing
to work”; but if you ask him if the long father never played music, but everyone exclusively for the last 10 years, and also
hours were a burden, he quickly replies, “No, else did—his mother, older brother, uncles, the only instrument Monroe had ever
it really wasn’t.” For McCoury, there haven’t and cousins—so there was ample supply seen him play—but rather as a guitar
been decidedly good times and distinctly ba d of willing teachers on hand at any given player and vocalist. “He was just that
t i m es— i t’ s a l l b e e n go o d . time. “I learned to play guitar from my kind of guy. He’d tell you, ‘Now I want
That outlook has helped draw a range of older brother when I was about nine. He you to do this,’ and you’d try to do it for
people to the Del McCoury Band—not just wanted me to learn some chords so I him.” There was one major incentive that


helped ease the transition—a 1939 Martin
D-28. “I went from p l ay i n g some really
cheap guitars at home to playing one of
the best guitars in the whole country. He “I WENT FROM P L AY I N G SOME
[Bill Monroe] bought that guitar brand new.
From what I understand, everybody played
it, including him. Everybody who came PLAYING ONE OF THE BEST GUITARS
along—Lester Flatt, Jimmy Martin, all of
his great lead singers from that point on
p l aye d that guitar. When I came into the MONROE] BOUGHT THAT GUITAR BRAND
band, it had been played hard. But it had NEW. FROM WHAT I UNDERSTAND,
such a great sound, that thing did.”
For most, a spot in Bill Monroe’s band
would be the last gig they ever needed, HIM. EVERYBODY WHO CAME ALONG—
but not so for McCoury. “I’ll tell you what
happened— I got married. I h a d b e e n
working for Bill Monroe for about exactly OF HIS GREAT LEAD SINGERS FROM
a yea r. I h a p p e n e d to mention to the THAT POINT ON P L AY E D THAT GUITAR.
fiddle player, Billy Baker, that I had been
offered a job as a Golden State Boy out in
California,” he says, referring to the early BEEN PLAYED HARD. BUT IT HAD SUCH A
1960s West Coast bluegrass band. “So
Billy said, ‘Let’s quit Bill and go out there
to California.’ Well, I had been wanting
to go out there, but I told him, ‘I’ll quit
and I’ll go, but I’m going to get married
first.’ I had been dating my wife for several
years, but I thought with me roaming all D E L M CCO U RY
over the country I’m likely to lose her. So
I told her, ‘If you still want me, I’d like to
get married.’ So we did, and the next thing
we did was go out to California. Within a
week, I quit Bill Monroe, got married, and
drove out to California.”

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 40

McCoury enjoyed his time out West, but after a little homesickness set in, the young couple moved back to York,
Pennsylvania, in 1964. McCoury began working for his father-in-law in the logging business, and for the next 25 years
worked, raised a family, and played as many gigs as he could fit into his schedule—usually two or three nights a
week. Then, in 1967, Chris Strachwitz, founder of California roots label Arhoolie Records, called out of the blue and
told McCoury he’d been wanting to do a record ever since hearing him sing with Bill Monroe at a festival in Berkeley,
California, in 1963. “So I told him, ‘Sure, I’d love to do a record. When do you want to do it?’ He said, ‘Tomorrow!’ I thought
he was in California, but he was right there in Pa. So that was my first record, and that was kind of a break for me.”
After years spent paying his dues, McCoury now had a record under his belt and was able to start leading his own
band, t h e Dixie Pals. Though the band’s lineup saw a lot of churn throughout the 1970s, things solidified when
McCoury’s so n Ronnie joined in 1981, followed by his yo u n ge r brother, Rob, in 1986. With a solid lineup and an
expanding schedule of festival dates, McCoury was finally able to quit his day job in the late 1980s. By 1992, the
family decided to take t h e plunge and move to Nashville, where McCoury met manager Stan Strickland, and the
rest, as they say, is history.
“Sometimes musicians don’t have too good of a business head—a good example of that was Bill Monroe. He wouldn’t
work with anybody because he was too stubborn,” says McCoury. “Now, he could play bluegrass music because
he invented it, but he couldn’t do anything else. I would not be this far if it had not been for Stan.” He quickly credits his
son Ronnie and his wife, Jean, for their business acumen and invaluable advice; but Strickland was instrumental in
establishing McCoury Music, the record label through which Grammy-winning albums The Company We Keep and
The Streets of Baltimore have been released, and DelFest, which continues to introduce McCoury to new generations of
music fans. This allows Del to focus on what he does best: playing guitar and singing. When it comes to leading a
band, McCoury does pause to reflect and note that, “I’ve never tried to tell a musician what to play. Everybody has
got a style, and you’ve got to let that style come out. I’ve always been a firm believer in that.”
Naturally, though, he does have one bit of parting advice for aspiring players: “I would say, buy a Martin guitar.
I’ll put it this way: If a musician ever gets to play a good Martin guitar, and he doesn’t own one, he’ll beg, steal or
borrow to get one. He knows how important it’s going to be to him learning because of that sound. They project well,
they have a good tone, and as good sounding as they are, they are still a tough guitar—they go through a lot. If you
take an instrument on the road day in and day out, and you play it hard, which usually you do — they’re taking a
beating. But that beating doesn’t change them at all. You can play them hard, and they still have that beautiful tone.”

The Del McCoury Band’s The Streets of Baltimore is

available everywhere. Catch the Del McCoury Band
on tour. DelMcCouryBand.com





martinstrings.com/LifeSpanSP 42
M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M |

43 | MARTIN ™


The very first Dreadnought guitars were designed and crafted by C. F. Martin &
Co. in 1916, but marketed in Boston and New York exclusively under the Oliver
Ditson brand. Originally made for Hawaiian slide playing style, the very first
Dreadnought made was a Model 222 shipped to Ditson in August of 1916. After
Ditson went out of business in the early 1930s, Martin introduced the D-1 and
D-2 Dreadnoughts for standard playing style that would soon become Martin’s
iconic D-18 and D-28 models. Over the past 100 years, the Martin Dreadnought
has defined what an acoustic guitar can and should be, and subsequently, it has
become the most popular acoustic guitar design in the world. In celebration
of the birth of the Dreadnought, Martin is proud to introduce the D-222 100 th
Anniversary Dreadnought Edition. Limited to no more than 100 special instruments,
the D-222 is a 12-fret slotted-head commemoration of the 1916 original, crafted
with a Vintage Tone System (VTS*) Sitka spruce top, scalloped Martin X-bracing,
premium genuine mahogany back and sides, grained ivoroid bindings, a Ditson-
style single ring rosette, and a genuine black ebony fingerboard and bridge.
Restrained in its appointments like the original, there is no restraint in tone. The
combination of the 12-fret Dreadnought’s sheer size with the clarity and brilliance of
mahogany yields a remarkably lightweight instrument with exquisite tone and power.
Learn more about Martin’s Vintage Tone System (VTS) at www.martinguitar.com/VTS.

*This model boasts Martin’s Vintage Tone System (VTS) Sitka spruce top and braces to replicate the aged appearance
and tonality of the original. The new Martin Vintage Tone System (VTS) uses a unique recipe that is based on the
historic torrefaction system. The VTS acts much like a time machine in which Martin can target certain time
periods and age the top/braces to that era.

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 44
45 | MARTIN ™


John Lennon acquired his first Martin D-28 acoustic guitar in 1967 around the time that the video for the Beatles’ new song
"Hello Goodbye" was filmed. From that point on, the D-28 (he owned several over the ensuing years) played an integral role
in Lennon’s songwriting and performances—from the Beatles’ prolific trip to India, through the White Album and the final
Let It Be era of the fab foursome, through the lush and diverse creativity of Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, and, of course, his
Imagine solo years.
Commemorating John Lennon’s incredible legacy and lasting contribution to music, and celebrating the 75th anniversary
of his birthday (he would have turned 75 on Friday, October 9, 2015), C. F. Martin & Co. is honored to introduce the D-28
John Lennon 75th Anniversary Edition.
Limited to no more than 75 instruments, this special guitar is a 14-fret Dreadnought crafted with a Vintage Tone System
(VTS*) Adirondack spruce top. Non-scalloped 5/16" Martin X-bracing, indicative of the 1960s time period, supports the
soundboard. The sides and back are bookmatched from solid Madagascar rosewood for a strong and powerful bass resonance —
the back being inlaid with HD-28 style “zigzag” peace sign marquetry. Genuine black ebony is selected for the fingerboard
and belly bridge.
The Madagascar rosewood headplate is adorned with John Lennon’s famous self-portrait illustration, which rests beneath
the Martin’s script logo, both inlaid in colorful shell. The guitar’s remaining inlay theme is inspired by several of Lennon’s
song lyrics: “the moon and the stars and the sun” (from "Instant Karma"), the number “9” ("Revolution 9," "#9 Dream," etc.),
Lennon’s round eyeglasses, and his signature, inlaid in mother-of-pearl between the 19th and 20th frets. The pickguard
bears a large sun inlay ("Sun King," "Here Comes the Sun," etc.) in mother-of-pearl with rays that emanate toward the rosette
that is circumscribed with nearly two dozen mother-of-pearl peace signs against a black background.
A white interior label bears each instrument’s numerical sequence in the edition. Lennon’s famous self-portrait
illustration from the headstock also appears on the label.
Learn more about Martin’s Vintage Tone System (VTS) at
www.martinguitar.com/VTS. | www.martinguitar.com/new

*This model boasts Martin’s Vintage Tone System (VTS) Adirondack spruce
top and braces to replicate the aged appearance and tonality of the
original. The new Martin Vintage Tone System (VTS) uses a unique recipe that
is based on the historic torrefaction system. The VTS acts much like a time
machine in which Martin can target certain time periods and age the top/
braces to that era.



Photo courtesy of Paul Saltzman

(Contact Press Image)

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 46

47 | MARTIN ™
The Martin Custom Shop likes to challenge the boundaries of precision artistry
and craftsmanship with an annual Custom Shop limited edition. This year’s 2016
Custom Shop contribution to Martin’s new product offering is the CS-OM True
North-16. Limited to no more than 50 exquisite guitars of the highest order, the
CS-OM True North-16 is a 14-fret 000 Auditorium model with an Adirondack
spruce soundboard and 1/4" Adirondack scalloped bracing for incredible tonal
complexity and power. For the comfort of the player, the neck is carved to a modified
low oval contour with the sleek and quick Performing Artist taper. Back and side
tonewoods are bookmatched from beautiful, highly figured Hawaiian koa with an
intricate “compass star” inlay down the centerline of the back. This dramatic
inlay is executed with a combined color palette of flamed jarrah, flamed claro
walnut and delicate paua shell concave diamonds against a circular ringed
backdrop of “waterfall” bubinga.
The concave paua diamonds and waterfall bubinga background appear again
as the design motif for the decorative rosette. The compass star design as well
is reduced and replicated in white and black mother-of-pearl against a figured
koa backdrop, carefully cut to look like a scroll of weathered parchment, which
is, in turn, re-inlaid into a black ebony headplate. The fingerboard, bridge and
perimeter bindings are also crafted from selected black ebony. This model’s
elegance is completed with Style 42 paua shell inlay around the perimeter of the
top and concave paua diamond inlays to mark the 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th and 15th
positions on the fingerboard. What more can we possibly say?!

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 48

000-42 AUTHENTIC 1939

The 000-42 Authentic 1939 draws its inspiration and
exacting specifications from the 1939 000-42 (Serial
#73741) from the Martin Museum Collection. This
special Auditorium-sized 000 was previously owned
by blues musician Kenny Sultan and is identical in
construction to Eric Clapton’s famous 000-42 (Serial
#73234), also made in 1939, and used on Clapton’s
groundbreaking and award-winning MTV Unplugged
live performance on January 16, 1992.
With the exception that Madagascar rosewood is
substituted for the Brazilian rosewood back, sides and
headplate used on the original 1939 models, all of the
remaining tonewoods, specifications and processes
faithfully replicate this legendary guitar. Meticulously
crafted with hide glue construction throughout, Authentic
features include a hand-fit compound dovetail neck
joint, solid Adirondack spruce top hand-sculpted with
Vintage Tone System (www.martinguitar.com/VTS) and
tucked scalloped X-bracing. Premium black ebony is
selected for the fingerboard and bridge. Each 000-42
Authentic 1939 is strung with light gauge SP Lifespan ®
7100 to ensure clear, powerful, long-lasting and
balanced tone. | www.martinguitar.com/new

49 | MARTIN ™
00-18 AUTHENTIC 1931
Based on the 1931 00-18 (Serial #49310) from the
vintage i n st r u m e nt collection of Fred Oster, this
austere yet beautiful small-bodied guitar replicates
the rare traditional 12-fret pre-1935 Style 18 Grand
Concert size. Light in weight with a breathy, crystalline
resonance, each 00-18 Authentic 1931 is constructed
with premium grade, genuine mahogany back and
sides, combined with a torrefied VTS (Vintage Tone
System)* Adirondack spruce top, to produce both an
aged appearance and tonality. Delicate 1/4” Martin
scalloped X-bracing is also hand-sculpted from VTS
torrefied bracing stock. The only non-Authentic trim
details on this instrument are the use of Madagascar
rosewood (in place of the more restricted Brazilian
rosewood) for the wooden top and back bindings,
headplate, endpiece a n d h e e l ca p. L i ke t h e 1 93 1
original, the fingerboard and bridge are crafted of
genuine black ebony, and the neck-to-body juncture
employs Martin’s hand-fit dovetail joint for excellent
transference of tone. As a final touch, the 00-18
Authentic 1931 utilizes an extremely thin vintage
gloss finish, indicative of the period, that further
contributes to the remarkable openness of tone from
this faithful post-parlor recreation.

*This model boasts Martin’s Vintage Tone System (VTS) Adirondack spruce
top and braces to replicate the aged appearance and tonality of the
original. The new Martin Vintage Tone System (VTS) uses a unique recipe that
is based on the historic torrefaction system. The VTS acts much like a time
machine in which Martin can target certain time periods and age the top/
braces to that era. Learn more about Martin’s Vintage Tone System (VTS) at

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 50

DC-28E OMC-28E GPC-28E

DC-28E | OMC-28E | GPC-28E

Since its inception, the Martin 14-fret D-28 has been (and continues to be) the workhorse and the standard for
acoustic guitars worldwide. Music legends like Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney and Neil Young
have made musical history with their D-28 Martin guitars.
For players seeking the classic design elements of the D-28 in the format of a full access acoustic-electric
cutaway, Martin introduces three distinct new Style 28 body sizes: the full-bodied Dreadnought (DC-28E),
the comfortable medium-sized Grand Performance (GPC-28E) and the well-balanced Orchestra Model (OMC-
28E). The Style 28’s traditional black p i c k g u a rd matches the solid black ebony bridge and fingerboard.
All three models are stage and studio ready with Fishman’s new, state-of-the-art Aura ® VT Enhance™ acoustic
amplification system with Acoustic Imaging (martinguitar.com/VTEnhance) that captures and blends undersaddle
piezo technology with an extra bridgeplate transducer that enhances the body’s natural tonal resonance.
Martin SP Lifespan ® Phosphor Bronze strings ensure clear, powerful, long-lasting and balanced tone.


Featuring the Aura VT Enhance™


• Acoustic Matrix under-saddle pickup, the world’s

best-selling under-saddle pickup (available on select models)

• Aura VT Enchance features Aura Acoustic Imaging

® ™

with one custom image built into an internal active preamp

(available on select models)

• Discreet, soundhole-mounted controls: Volume and tone

controls up top and a new Enhance blend control on the
lower part of the soundhole

 attery box integrated into endpin jack for easy access


Learn more at martinguitar.com/VTEnhance

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 52
OMC-35E | GPC-35E | DC-35E

Following the 2015 50 th anniversary of the D-35, Martin is pleased to introduce three new
acoustic-electric cutaway models that are based on the distinctive D-35 with its contrasting
three-piece back. Offered in the full Dreadnought size (DC-35E), as well as the medium-sized
Grand Performance (GPC-35E) model and the smaller-bodied, tonally-balanced Orchestra Model
(OMC-35E), these models share identical tonewoods and appointments. A solid Sitka spruce
soundboard with high performance X-bracing is paired with solid East Indian rosewood sides
and three-piece back. A traditional black pickguard matches the solid ebony of the bridge
and bound fingerboard.
All three models are stage and studio ready with Fishman’s new, state-of-the-art Aura® VT
Enhance™ acoustic amplification system with Acoustic Imaging (martinguitar.com/VTEnhance)
that captures and blends undersaddle piezo technology with an extra bridgeplate transducer
that enhances the body’s natural tonal resonance. Martin SP Lifespan ® Phosphor Bronze strings
ensure clear, powerful, long-lasting and balanced tone. | www.martinguitar.com/new
OMC-35E GPC-35E DC-35E

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 54

DC-18E GPC-18E OMC-18E

55 | MARTIN ™
DC-18E | GPC-18E | OMC-18E
Martin new Style 18 guitars, constructed with solid genuine mahogany back and
sides, exhibit a remarkable breathiness, lightness of weight and tonal strength
that is difficult to fathom. Like their rosewood counterpart, the D-28, the
14-fret D-18s have been prized by players since their introduction in 1934. In
particular, the mahogany sound is favored on stage and in studios for the clear,
unencumbered tone that brings a recording to life.
For players seeking the classic design elements of the D-18 in the format of a
full access acoustic-electric cutaway, Martin introduces three distinct Style
18 body sizes: the large-bodied D rea d n o u g ht (DC-18E), the comfortable
medium-sized Grand Performance (GPC-18E) and the smaller but extremely well-
balanced Orchestra Model (OMC-18E). These three models preserve vintage
styling, matching the ebony with a traditional black pickguard. All three models
are stage and studio ready with Fishman’s new, state-of-the-art Aura® VT Enhance™
acoustic amplification system with Acoustic Imaging (martinguitar.com/VTEnhance)
that captures and blends undersaddle piezo technology with an extra bridgeplate
transducer that enhances the body’s natural tonal resonance. Martin SP Lifespan®
Phosphor Bronze strings ensure clear, powerful, long-lasting and balanced tone.

M A R T I N G U I TA R . C O M | 56
DC-15ME | OMC-15ME